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 Post subject: Paddling the Alabama
PostPosted: Mon Jun 09, 2008 3:18 pm 
lord high faltbotmeister
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Joined: Sat Mar 24, 2007 6:30 pm
Posts: 681
Location: Stone Mountain, Ga. U.S.A.
This is a brief report as I will leave the whole story for Gerry ( K7Baixo ) when he returns.

Friday, June 6th, I met Gerry at Montgomery Marina ( Montgomery, Alabama ) for what would be a long weekend paddle to inaugurate the Scenic Alabama River Trail, the longest river trail in one state in the U.S.

Gerry was occupied putting together his Long Haul Mk1 as I unloaded my Feathercraft Kahuna from my trailer. We were both sweating profusely and looking for some shade from the hot Alabama sun. As it turned out, we would paddle almost 37 miles from noon on Friday to noon on Sunday with the longest paddle on Saturday of 19 miles. All of this done in temperatures hovering into the low 90's :oops:

We also paddled with two others on this leg and camped along the river for two warm nights. By Sunday, I was looking forward to climbing out of my boat for the last time and heading to Atlanta. Myself and the two others did just that as work :cry: on Monday was calling us home. We left Gerry behind to paddle the rest of his trip alone.

Gerry is a good paddler and will do well the next week. The key for him will be to do what we all did and paddle from early morning to early afternoon then take cover from the heat wave for the rest of the day.

He was taking some great pictures along the way, so we will all look forward to his report when he returns after the 17th of June and about 134 miles of the Alabama.


"No matter where you go, there you are."

Wilderness Systems Cape Horn 150

 Post subject: Re: Paddling the Alabama
PostPosted: Sat Jun 14, 2008 7:31 am 
Richard Grove should hereby be known as "King Richard" for what he accomplished paddling from Georgia through AL to the Gulf of Mexico. I just finished a paltry 100-mile paddle of it and I'm simply in awe of what he accomplished.

I met Chris from Atlanta via this site. We had been talking about this trip for quite some time and agreed to meet at the Montgomery Marina on June 6th - last Friday.

Richard and I exchanged emails and I was anxious to meet him also.

I flew from PHX to BHM on Wed the 4th and my father was kind enough to pick me up. We sent a night at his house and the next morning (Thurs), I helped him set up for a gem and mineral show at a nearby state park.

It was then that I realized what I signed up for - I'm not sure what was higher - the temp or the humidity. We had to move his camper once after getting it set up which tested our patience. After that, I put my kayak together and did another test pack of it.

(More to follow)

 Post subject: Re: Paddling the Alabama
PostPosted: Sat Jun 14, 2008 7:34 am 
We needed to get to Montgomery fairly early so my father could return for his show at Tannehill so we were up at 5:15 or so for the 100 mile drive.

Upon arrival, I unloaded my stuff and asked my father to go grab me a couple of softdrinks and water for the trip. Chris, kayakamper from pulled up with a few minutes of our arrival and proceeded to get his Feathercraft loaded and in the water.

There was a ceremony to open the Alabama Scenic River Trail at 11 and Chris and I paddled on down for another reason: I was stationed at Maxwell AFB 30-years ago and I had contacted one of the civilian lab techs, now retired, and she was going to meet us. She surprised me by calling another civilian that I knew and invited her to join us. They were both medical lab techs and two of the finest people that I ever worked with:


It was very cool seeing them - after 30-years, none of us had changed all that much.

The ceremony kicked off around 11 and I was glad we weren't on the water. Those poor folks were in a frying pan while we had a little shade and cold water. We said our goodbyes after the ceremony and loaded up for the 7-mile paddle to Cooter's Pond.

At this point, I had spotted Richard but hadn't met him yet.

More to follow...

Last edited by K7Baixo on Sat Jun 14, 2008 7:50 am, edited 1 time in total.

 Post subject: Re: Paddling the Alabama
PostPosted: Sat Jun 14, 2008 7:42 am 
The distance from the riverfront to Cooter's Pond is only about seven miles but let me tell you, it was @%&$ hot at noon. There were all manner of paddlecraft in the water including a couple of them little shorty whitewater boats.

Now, I didn't technically see them leave for Cooter's and I was hoping they decided against it. There were other people who also had no business trying to paddle that distance but I didn't say anything - the organizers had a few rescue boats in the water to help out.

Chris and I talked as we paddled getting to know each other and made one short rest stop to stretch out. I believe we're both slightly north of 50 so every stop allowed us to stretch out a little.

We covered that distance in about two hours and as we pulled into this place called Cooter's Pond, it was clear we had no idea where to go - it's huge. Chris spotted the boat ramp and I kept thinking that I had heard something about a golf course which was in front of us.

Luckily, we went to the ramp and Chris walked to the top and determined that we were in the right stop.

Rule number one: if there's a sign (southern: if they's a sign) that says, "Welcome Bass Fisherman", just keep paddling down the river.

We scouted around and found a good spot up on top for our tents and such and started the process of unloading our boats. Then, we decided that it might be better to take a spot down near the docks which would be out down and away from the parking lot.

The organizers had a dinner that night so we confirmed the time and location and started getting our camp organized.

Chris set up his tent and I hung my hammock. By the time we finished, it was dinner time so we headed to that location.

Dinner was great - typical souhern fare: barbeque, ice tea (sweet and unsweet), baked beans and pie. I think I drank about a gallon of tea... it was clear that we'd have to be careful not to get dehydrated over the next few days.

It was at dinner that I first met and immediately liked Richard. We also met his friend Chris also from ATL. Now, Richard was in true form - sitting wiht some ladies and clearly he was in charge so we gave him some room to ...err.... operate.

That evening, we watched various boaters come in - one guy put one a clear display of disregard for "no wake". As his wife/girlfriend/sister got off the boat, she apologized to us for her language and then said something about never getting on a boat with a drunk again.

The next morning, the noise started around 0400 or 0430. Boats launching, guys yelling, motors cranked, etc. Have you ever heard the sound of ~62 boats and teams preparing for a bass tournament? You can't fight it so go with it. We got up, prepared (southern: fixed) breakfast and packed up.

The water had dropped quite a bit overnight - we were glad our kayaks were on the dock since they'd be in the mud if we had left them in the first spot we considered.

The bass folks didn't complain too much - I guess they assumed (southern: figured) that if they can make noise, they can also step around our boats - not that too many of them used the docks in the first place.

The fleet massed just outside of Cooter's on the river and they did a numbered start calling off each boat's number and crew names. They got 62 teams off in just over 10-minutes I believe. We were pleased that most of them headed up river too.

We had determined the night before that we'd be on the water by 0630 and I think we were close to that. I'll have to check my notes for the distance and destination but it was clearly going to be a good if not warm day.

More to follow....

 Post subject: Our group
PostPosted: Sat Jun 14, 2008 7:48 am 

On the left is Richard - an ex-Navy seal who did considerable time in Vietnam. On-line, he's fairly hard on folks and isn't slow to offer his opinion which is usually a no-nonsense approach. Clearly a man that you don't want to piss off. In-person, the nicest guy you'd ever want to meet. A clear American hero.

In the middle was Chris from ATL - first time we met was on this trip and I hadn't communicated with him before - an unknown to me.

On the far right, "our" Chris that I had talked to on-line many times before. Chris has a couple of kayaks and was kind enough to bring his folder so I wouldn't be "the only one". :wink:

 Post subject: Re: Paddling the Alabama
PostPosted: Sat Jun 14, 2008 12:57 pm 
Oh yes - we left Cooter's Pond at about 0630 and the destination that night was a wilderness campsite about 19 miles away.

Now, I just started kayaking last Oct taking lessons with Jen and Jake over at Aqua Adventures in SandyEggo and I followed that the very next weekend with a trip from Willow Beach on the CO River north towards Hoover Dam - which does no suck.

That is only about 8 miles and since they were releasing water from the dam, I figure it felt like about 15 on flat water. That was actually a pretty good comparison.

We had a pretty uneventful day paddling - good views, good scenery, great conversations and even some quiet reflective time when we just paddled.

I don't recall the time but we covered that 19 miles in a fairly short order and when it came to the sandbar under consideration, the water was simply too high so we started thinking about alternatives.

Now, this part of the river is fairly popular - there are plenty o' boats and homes spread out but we knew that finding a good spot wouldn't be impossible.

I spotted a couple of pontoon boats tied up to our left and Richard and I decided to see if we could stay there. There were no signs of a home that we could see - but it was obvious that it was someone's spot to hang out during the day.

At one point, I decided it might not be a good idea but Richard said, "Hell, the worst thing they can say is "No"!" so on we paddled.

"Mike" met us at the water and being an ex-Vietnam vet, he and Richard hit it off and we were quickly made to feel at home. We were offered cold drinks, water, pork barbeque, wiskey - everything but a couple of young blonds. We were given permission to camp there and they even offered to go fetch anything we needed.

Richard, being part fish and all seal, even swam across the river (my guess about 125 yards wide) with one guy's wife and back again! Yep - that's after paddling 19 miles.

I'm telling you, we swapped stories, jokes, drinks - it was true southern hospitality at its finest.

One guy talked about surviving an ultralight plane crash and then he offered to find us on the river and take pictures as he flew over.

From the camp the next morning:


Looking down the river:

Underway again:

More to come....

 Post subject: Re: Paddling the Alabama
PostPosted: Sat Jun 14, 2008 1:24 pm 
Sunday, we were once again up and at it early. I got the feeling that Richard would have rather stayed up later Saturday night and may have been somewhat disappointed that most of us were in our tents around 9 PM. What can I say, it had been a long day for me and the heat had taken its toll. Plus, at some point, the bugs have eaten too much of me and I retreat into my hammock to read myself to sleep.

Sunday was to be an easy day - 10 miles to a place called Holy Ground which is supposed to be an old Indian site that they considered to be holy.

We made great time - so much so that we slowed down purposely taking breaks waiting for the plane to show up.

Finally, we heard him and all of us gathered towards the middle of the river. The pilot made about four loops taking pictures - we hope - and then lined it up with the river and buzzed us.

I had grabbed my camera and was taking a picture when I heard a big splash to my left. Chris flipped out attempting to moon the pilot!

This was a 1945 Army observer airplane:

Chris and Richard:

Laughing and enjoying the moment:

We made our way to Holy Ground which is a day-use only park and while I unloaded my stuff, the three amigos called for their shuttle and prepared to load up.

I have to tell you that early that morning, I paddled off alone. One reason was to be a brief taste of paddling alone and the other was to take a few pictures. While I was prepared to say goodbye, I wasn't sure how I would react to paddling alone.

My campsite - disorganized with everything spread out on the table:


Late afternoon:

At about 6 pm, a Corp of Engineers ranger walked through and I introduced myself to him. I wasn't sure if I would receive permission to camp there that night but they were already aware that someone from Arizona was passing through. The ranger gave me his business card and cellphone and said to call if I needed anything.

He also told the civilian employee that it was ok for me to camp there that night so at 7 pm, when the park closed, I was allowed to stay. The civilian came by to see if I needed anything and told me that no one would bother me since they lock the gates at night.

It was kind of cool - and lonely being the only one there. I enjoyed the peace and quiet!

 Post subject: Re: Paddling the Alabama
PostPosted: Sat Jun 14, 2008 2:41 pm 
I read some of this early a.m. on PNet. Sounds like a good trip. Too bad my brother and I weren't able to make it.



 Post subject: Re: Paddling the Alabama
PostPosted: Sat Jun 14, 2008 2:43 pm 
lord high faltbotmeister
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Joined: Sat Mar 24, 2007 6:30 pm
Posts: 681
Location: Stone Mountain, Ga. U.S.A.
Well done Gerry! All of this brings back great, tired and warm memories. It was great paddling with you , Richard and Chris. I am also glad you made the rest of the trip unscathed. I ( we all ) look forward to reading about the rest of your trip.

B.T.W., After the three of us returned by shuttle to Montgomery, I noticed the bank temp. sign read 99F :oops: . My thoughts were with you for sure!

One other note that makes Richard's story so unique for all of us 'old' folks out there feel better is that Richard ( ) is a truely young man at 60!


"No matter where you go, there you are."

Wilderness Systems Cape Horn 150

 Post subject: Re: Paddling the Alabama
PostPosted: Sat Jun 14, 2008 4:19 pm 
Only 99F? I remember one July day in 1980 when I was at home in between the USAF and starting to college. Back then, I was very much into cycling and decided to bicycle to Tuscaloosa - about 35-miles away. The ride there was fairly easy - I rode around town, visited some local bicycle shops, had lunch and started home about 1 PM.

Now, on that day, I noticed that I was drinking more water than I usually consumed and I stopped a few more times. As I neared Brent, I stopped at a little local store where I knew my mother was conducting a hypertension clinic as part of her health department duties. I don't recall my BP but my sitting pulse was 68 - even after riding about 70-miles at that point.

I decided to ride through town and check the temp at the bank even though it meant adding four miles to my ride.

The bank's thermometer read 106F and I certain the humidity was at least 95%.

I was a lot younger then. 8)

Enjoyed meeting you also! It really was a great trip eh'?

 Post subject: First day alone
PostPosted: Sat Jun 14, 2008 4:22 pm 
Monday was a tough day for me and I don't quite understand why I felt that way. Maybe it was the first day alone - maybe it was the heat. The waters were pretty much void of other boaters also.

I was on the water at 0640 for a relatively easy 15-mile paddle down to Prairie Creek Campground - another Corp of Eng. facility. I paddled easy and enjoyed the sites along the way and I especially enjoyed the early morning light:


Down the river a bit:

I arrived at Prairie Creek at 1100 and walked up from the docks in search of the office. It looked to be a mile or so down the road and I confirmed that with a guy in a van who then offered me a ride down so I could register.

Now, these campgrounds are managed by contract workers who are usually retired couples. The couple at PC were no different and it was lots of fun standing outside in 95F heat while he struggled with the computer system. I purchased a bag of ice for $1.50 and of course, he gave me the incorrect amount of change. I didn't have a cooler but I decided the few hours I would be of cool drinks was well-worth the $1.50.

The driver of the van was kind enough to wait on me and gave me a lift back to my kayak. I pulled around to the point of the campground and was able to unload my stuff and get it moved up an 8' bank.

As I finished hanging the hammock, the clouds started rolling in and the thunder cranked up. I decided to move the kayak up on the bank and turn it upside down to keep out the rain water.

Note to self - buy a cockpit cover.

The rain managed to miss us but it cooled things off a bit making the area more tolerable. My food stocks were pretty simple stuff - crackers, various kinds of noodles and a few dehydrated dinners for variety. I also carried a couple of oranges and even Tang for the water.

That evening, I found myself to be in a slightly foul mood - for no particular reason. Maybe I'm not cut out to travel alone even though I've done numerous trips by myself including a little bicycle ride from Glacier to Yellowstone in 1983.

Who knows - maybe the next "dam" day would be better.

Last edited by K7Baixo on Mon Apr 06, 2009 3:37 pm, edited 1 time in total.

 Post subject: Re: Paddling the Alabama
PostPosted: Sat Jun 14, 2008 4:34 pm 
Although I was born in FL, I was raised in Alabama. I left there in 1976 for the USAF, returned in 1980 for an engineering degree and left upon graduation in 1985 when my services weren't needed in Birmingham and I was optioned out to another location.

I am very proud of my state for a variety of reasons and this trip only confirmed that the people here are warm, generous and deeping caring even for strangers in funny red kayaks.

Despite that, I fully acknowledge that AL still has its fair share of rednecks.

The following pictures, while taken from a distance should prove this.

Don't have dock? Use an old pontoon boat:


How do you get down to the water? Use a ladder of course:


Need to move your grill to the campsite? No truck? Put a young-un in the truck and he can hold it in place:

Again, I love the people in AL - I just found these to be amusing.

 Post subject: Locked...and loaded.
PostPosted: Sun Jun 15, 2008 6:24 pm 
I woke up the next morning in a much, much better mood. I think it was the excitement of going through my first lock and I knew that the character of the river was going to change after the dam.

Here is the approach to the Robert Henry Lock & Dam:


I wasn't sure of the procedure to lock through but Richard had given me good instructions. While there were guys there when I arrived, I tied off just outside of the gate and climbed the ladder to the top. I could have pulled a rope that would have activated a siren but that's not very friendly-like.

Plus, I wanted to say hello and take a few pictures.

I was quickly introduced to Parker Cheatem who has worked at the dam since 1977. Parker's a very friendly guy and answered all of my questions.

Looking downriver from the top of the lock:

The rocks on the other side of the dam:

Filling the lock for me:

The lock itself - not full yet:

The controls:

Parker told me that he was ready when I was and I asked him about any special procedures. He told me just stay in the middle and he'd flush ....err...let me down real easy.

Closing the gates behind me:


Down we go:

Again, the gates were I entered:

Finally, we were at the bottom and the gates on the other end were opened just enough for me to slip out:


Back up the river:

At this point, the river was much narrower that that above the dam and since they weren't making power, there was no current. Typcially, it would appear that they don't pull water until later in the day - which makes to power the AC as folks come home.

I quickly noticed that this area wasn't developed and there was NO boat traffic at all. In fact, I didn't see but two fellows all day long!

Despite that, I was stoked - just me, the kayak and the river.....along with tons of birds, turtles, gator gars, snakes, kingfishers and great blue herons. It was a spectacular day!

I had planned to stay on a marked island near a local plant which was another 16-miles down the river but when I got there, I decided it wasn't a suitable location.

That may have been a mistake - the banks in this part of the river are quite steep and it was difficult to find a safe camping spot knowing that the water would probably rise later in the day.

Finally, after a 20-mile day, I spotted an old dock and pier that wasn't drawing water causing it to sit at a small angle. That didn't bother me - there were two large trees that would hold my hammock and I was guessing the water would level the dock out.

Home for the night:

I did make one small error - this was on the east side of the river. That means I didn't have any shade until the sun dropped below the tree line on the other side. That's fine - I thought it was a cool spot despite the lack of shade. I didn't have any ice either but I was pretty happy to be here!

If you look closely at the picture, you can see that I had to clear a little brush below the hammock. I carry a small machete that I got from a cowboy in the Pantanal area of Brazil. I'm not big on souvenirs
- you'll never see me with a t-shirt that says "Panama City" on it - but I love my little machete.

As sure as the sun set, the water started coming up and my little dock leveled out.


As I prepared dinner, the thunder started so I repacked the kayak in case of rain - I could at least keep everyhing drier in the kayak.

The only things I didn't pack was my fuel and my plastic water jug.

That night, I kept one eye closed and the other eye on the water. At some point in the night, I heard an almost gentle splash and didn't give it another thought.

When I climbed out of the hammock at 0600, the water had dropped back down and the dock wasn't level:


The first thing I noted was that my water jug was gone. #@&%@* - that was probably the splash I heard.

Oh well, I had several water bottles and I knew my chances of finding it were pretty good...there isn't a lot of trash on the river and it would be easy to spot. I had filtered out water the night before and I hated to lose that water but... I can always make more. My filter worked well although I did have to clean it after about 4 quarts.

As I prepared my breakfast, I noticed something in the water about 300 yards away. Right away, I knew what it was... my water jug.

Now, this is downriver from me but I'll be darned if it wasn't headed my way. About 15 minutes after the inital sighting:

Anther 10-minutes and it was even with the dock:

I guess either there was just enough wind to move it along or the river runs backwards when they shut down the dam! By the time I was packed, I actually had to paddle about 100-yards back up the river to get it.

My good mood continued - I was excited about the day's paddle because I would get to Selma!

More to follow.....

Last edited by K7Baixo on Tue Jun 17, 2008 11:30 am, edited 1 time in total.

 Post subject: Selma!
PostPosted: Mon Jun 16, 2008 2:21 pm 
The miles to be paddled were getting shorter - my longest days were behind me and I was in no particular hurry. The last few days were to be savored and enjoyed.

The river's character remained the same - no current to speak of, lots of wildlife and no people. I said that I had seen two fellows during yesterday's paddle but I was mistaken - I hadn't see anyone. No boats, very few homes - just me and the river.

As I paddled, I noted some old bridge supports on each side of the river. Any remains of the bridge or the road weren't evident but just past the supports, I noticed an area that appeared to be perfect for camping. Turns out, it was the remains of an old boat launch that hadn't been recently used.

A lot of ramps in the South are on the honor system and you can usually see a box or a can for money. I couldn't locate this one's which suggests that its best days were long gone. Still, it's an ideal area to camp:


I continued on towards the night's stop at Beech Creek Marina and was disappointed when I arrived. There were no boats there, the Swamp Restaurant was closed and the water had receded turning the marina into a mud hole.

Hhmmm... not a big deal - there's always Selma City Marina just down the river.

Selma has several bridges that you paddle under and the most famous of them all is the Pettus Bridge. I got a certain thrill as I paused to take pictures and continue my journey towards a certain end:


Selma's City Marina was the biggest surprise. The river is pretty much void of anything other than the odd characters and campgrounds but when I arrived at the Marina, I was thrilled to see that they had a restaurant and a place to hang my hammock in a thicket of pine trees.

Picture a simple bar with its regulars, a required picture of Bear Bryant, the typcial dollar bills stapled to the walls, beer company pin-up girl posters and not a non-smoking seat in the house.

Old school.


First order of business was food and drink. In typical southern fashion, I had the best hamburger I've ever had and at least a gallon of ice tea - sweet of course. I'm not much of a drinker but had I been, I wouldn't have paid for my beer. Everyone and I mean everyone offered me beer.

I settled in and updated my daily journals - it proved be good timing since the heavens opened and the bottom fell out. From my dry spot inside:


I moved my kayak to the pine trees after the rain and got my camp organized - and then went back to the bar. I learned that there was a regular, informal Wed afternoon fishing tournament and was happy to see a few vehicles from my home country.

At the weigh-in at 8 PM, I ran into a guy who I hadn't seen in 32 years. @%&$ - that sun of a gun had aged and looked 65 instead of 50.

The locals were a great source of information. I learned that Kings Landing where I was going to take out on Friday was closed and gated by the owners. That meant I'd have to consider alternatives.

I thought about the site of the first capital of AL called Old Cahaba but they weren't sure if the landing there would have water. OK - I'll play it by ear. Not a big deal - paddle on, adapt, modify, overcome - I feel like a real kayaker now - mothing bothers me anymore.

 Post subject: Last night....
PostPosted: Tue Jun 17, 2008 11:04 am 
(Well, I'm supposed to fly from BHM to PHX today but my flight was just canceled and I'll go out later today. That's the bad news. The good news is that they rebooked me into first class for the ATL-PHX leg!)

I'm not much of a bar person but I did enjoy the City Marina. Seems that everyone knows everyone else and the regulars have been there for years. I alternated between the noise inside and the peace and quiet outside.

Around 10 PM, I called it a night and retreated to my hammock to make a few phone calls. One was to a guy that I played basketball with in high school and of course, I talked to my wife - who still wasn't all that happy that I had continued the trip alone. (She's over it now BTW!)

At 0445, I woke up to answer the call of nature and sure enough, I could still hear music from inside the bar. Rather than water the pine trees, I wandered into the bar and the owner, one worked and a nephew who had just gotten off of work (railroad man) were drinking beer! I did my thing and when I came out of the restroom, there was a glass of ice tea waiting on me.

If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.

We sat around and killed time and at 0550, I got the most soder of the three to help me carry the kayak down to the water. By 0700, I had finished breakfast and was headed down river.

I think I only had about nine miles to cover and was in particular hurry. The destination was a Corp. of Engineers' campground called Prairie Creek and I was looking forward to staying there.

As I paddled along, I saw something making a fairly significant "V" in the water and I assumed it was a log sticking out - until it disappeared. Gator...

Now, I grew up on the river south of here and unless it's mating season or you're threatening a nest, an alligator (and snakes for that matter) will avoid you at all costs. They're also impossible to photograph although I did catch his wake:


One of the more famous areas on the this part of the river is a sandbar that they call "Little Miami" and of course, the other side of the river it "Ft Lauderdale". It was so calm and peaceful that I took a break for a little Tang and to take a few photos:


We had dinner last night with friends and family and the first thing my frinds asked me was if I had stopped at the City Marina and then they mentioned this spot. I guess it's usually covered up with pontoon boats, people and barbeques!

I also set my water container down and using the timer, took a self-portrait:


Prairie Creek was a nice surprise. The hosts couldn't have been nicer and even offered to pick me up something on their next trip to town. I took them up on their offer and requested a bag of ice and a 2-liter diet coke. When they brought it to me, they even included a cooler saying, "Just leave it on the table - we'll get it tomorrow."

Can't be the hospitality of the South.

Anther picture of your guide - I can't tell you how much I enjoyed my hammock and cover. It allowed a slight breeze, kept the rain off of me and more importantly, gave me relief from the bugs:


Tomorrow - last day and arrival at Old Cahaba.

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