Canoeing: If you don't do it, you don't do it. The canoe just sits there collecting dust and fally tree bits and giant fishing spiders up inside its hull. And so when the Rivers, Trails and Ales Festival came around for its second year here in Marietta, Ohio, and there was an all-day organized paddle from Lowell to Marietta, of some 14 miles, advertised for "hardy paddlers," I was IN. I am feeling quite hardy lately. Doinky toe and all.
The day (August 11) dawned cloudy and cool but with no forecast of rain. Perfect. You can put the cool days this summer in a very, very small basket, or perhaps hold them in one hand. It was a gift.
I quickly dropped well behind everyone else, being interested in other things than getting there first. The sky, for instance, with tantalizing edges of blue beckoning. And birds. Trip list ran to 28 species, including green and great blue heron, belted kingfisher and wood duck families, lots of bank and barn swallows, red-tailed hawk, American kestrel, and tons of cedar waxwings (they're flycatching along the river this time of year). I left my big camera rig (Canon 7D with 70-300 L series lens) at home, because I figured I'd have lots of chances to dump it into the Muskingum in a 14 mile stretch. Brought my old rig with telephoto, and was so scandalized at the difference in quality of my bird shots that I won't inflict any of them on you here. Lesson learned. Just leave it home, or bring the big rig and take your chances. So the little Canon G-12 had a chance to shine.
Most of the crew stopped for lunch at the Edgewater, a Marietta bar. Not me. I had Sungold tomatoes, almonds, sangwitches, nectarines, ice-cold water in a below-deck cooler...I was all set. So I used this opportunity to catch up with the vanguard so we could all lock through the Devol's Dam Lock together.
Ohio's Muskingum River is the longest navigable waterway in the state. It's 111 miles long, running from Coshocton to Marietta, near where I live. At Marietta, it meets and dumps into the Ohio and that's all she wrote. This river was an important commercial shipping route in the mid 1800's, and the locks and dams along its length testify to that. By the 1920's, trucks and trains had taken over shipping, and the locks fell into sad disrepair.
But an increase in pleasure boating spurred repairs on the old doors and gates, and they're now fully operational. In fact, this lock and dam system may be the last and oldest hand-operated system in the U.S. Meaning, a guy stands up there does it all by himself using big crank wheels he turns with his arms. Which makes it a national Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. Since 2006, when it was designated an Ohio Water Trail, more canoes and kayaks have traversed its length, getting locked through just like the big boats. Cool!
I was really excited to get a look at those massive doors and their huge timbers. They have to be strong enough to hold back a whole river, after all.
For those who, like me, haven't ever quite gotten what locks are all about, they're for lowering watercraft a significant number of feet so that they can traverse a dam safely. So locks are put over to one side of a dam. And the lock is a chamber whose water level can be changed by opening or closing these massive gates. You enter the lock at the river level you're currently on, and when you "lock through" you're essentially dropping your boat several feet to the level the river is below the dam. The lockmaster opens the gate and the water comes in and you do, too. Here, we're all coming into the lock chamber.
Everyone picks a little steel cable to hang onto to keep your boat from drifting around while you're locking through. The lock is as full as it's going to get right now.
While you're waiting for everyone to get inside the lock, the lockmaster comes around with a clipboard and he lowers it on a rope and you clip $5 in it to pay your way through. He was making out like a bandit today.
Now he wants my money.
as the lockmaster cranked a wheel (this is what we mean by a hand-operated lock!)
I don't much like that foamy raging water trying to flood in the back gate, so I just point my camera back without looking. Becky smiles.
At last the downriver gate cranks open, the lockmaster doing it by hand, once again!
Happy kayakers stream toward freedom.
Everyone's smiling, relieved and excited to have locked through on the Muskingum. It was a very cool experience.
Here's Devol's Dam. You definitely wouldn't want to go over that in a kayak. Nose first and flip!
Locking all done, I let the current carry me for awhile.
and begin paddling again when a stiff headwind springs up. Here's the William P. Snyder, one of the last working sternwheelers in the area. John Hartford had his picture taken in the cabin for one of his album covers. That's notoriety enough for me!
The Washington Street Bridge in Marietta from below.
The Valley Gem, a handmade steel sternwheeler who takes river cruises on the Muskingum and Ohio.