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Zick Does the Muskingum!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

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.

The bridge to Buell Island in Lowell, where we started. As you can see, this was not to be a whitewater adventure. It was a lazy river float. There was even some scum.

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.

I got a little pitter patter when the lock finally loomed into view, 9 miles along my route. The lock is to the left; the dam is to the right, and you don't want to go over the dam unless you're in a barrel or something. Yes, that's an iguanodon on my bow. I needed a mascot. It was just a question of which of the 64 plastic dinosaurs it was going to be. This one had the right intrepid look.

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!

My new friend Vicki waits for another group of kayakers to lock through.

This is where it got a little freaky for me. You can see my other new friend Charlotte fighting the strong current that was trying to suck us toward the lock doors. This was because the lockmaster was busy letting all the lockwater out to release the first group of canoes and kayaks. So it created tremendous suction behind the gate.

So I hanged on to some knotweed on the bank (noting the presence of Fogfruit, a nice aquatic bloomer) until the gates creaked open and the current eased.

We're goin' in!!

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.


Double dang!

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.

Alls I had was a ten, but there was change.

 Here's Dan and his little Irish terrier Maggie, in the fabulous racing kayak Dan made out of wood. There were some serious boat fanatics here. I chose not to be envious. I love my Wee Lassie, Lois, unreservedly.

I did wish Chet Baker could ride in a porthole, but he gets kind of trembly. Dan confessed to me that Maggie doesn't much like it either. Coulda fooled me. She was a model of ladylike deportment. What a beautiful doggie.

 As soon as we were all in and paid up, it started to get freaky again. The water level dropped

and dropped

as the lockmaster cranked a wheel (this is what we mean by a hand-operated lock!)

I'm not quite sure what he's cranking open, but the water is spilling out the downriver side of the lock and lowering rapidly within the lock chamber.

Behind us, at the gate where we entered, a furious white foam where water from the 8' higher river is trying to get in. I was very glad for the great stout, no-messin'-around timbers in that gate.

It is smelling very rivery now. I'm wearing gloves because Bill told me it would be ooky on the chamber walls, and it was. Also musselly.

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.

Soon enough we reached takeout at the Marietta College boathouse. The trip had taken about six hours. I was sorry it was over, but ready for an ale, foshizzle. Here's to the Marietta Rivers, Trails and Ales Festival in its second vital and thriving year! Special thanks to Hallie Taylor of the Marietta Adventure Company for making it happen.

If you have a canoe collecting spiders, get it out and get out there. This is the best time of year for canoeing, bar none. Lois is my little freedom machine, and with a forecast for sun and 70's, we're going out again tomorrow! Gotta check on my red-headed woodpeckers at North Bend State Park.


Cool journey Julie.Many years ago we rented a house boat and went through a lake lock system in Ontario.
What a blast.

I have long been a fan of 19th century river and canal engineering. An amazing thing, only to be undone by the railroad! Thanks for a great trip, Julie.

That's going to be purchase #1 once we get to Maine. Ponds everywhere!

Ah, locks. I can't claim to be an expert, but on our river journey through part of Germany this year (we were in a ship, not a kayak or canoe, mind), we went through 66 locks. Our trip took us on the Rhine, to the Main, to the Danube connected by several wonderful canals.
But 66 locks in 10 days is a lot. Several of them were raises (or lowers) of 90 plus feet. We note that water fowl like to graze along the sides as the lowering water reveals all the algae.
Great pics. But I think I'll stick to lock travel in a larger river-going vessel.

Locks are so cool. First time I saw one was in Stratford-Upon-Avon. It was a much smaller lock than in this article and was manually opened and closed by guys pulling and grunting to get the doors open and closed. It was really something and looked like this (I don't believe this was the actual one I saw):

What an adventure! I was fascinated and appreciated all the details and photos. Sounds like so much fun.

52I've always been fascinated by locks... would drive to Reedsville to see that one being built. I remember years ago going through the locks at Racine (OH)... BUT... I felt like I was right in your canoe with you on this trip. What a great experience! You make me homesick for Raccoon Creek, Hocking River and canoe trips in my Ohio rivers!

I totally agree with your comment on paddling. The hardest things I've had to give up while volunteering is regular gardening and paddling.

Now one of my kayaks, given to a friend, is home to a black snake and I once paddled with a Carolinas wren nest - probably a dummy - in the bow of my canoe.

Now I'll start dreaming of a trip through a lock.

Thanks for sharing a wonderful experience. But I would have hung my sweeper, had he shown up without you.

Marilyn, Marilyn,

Please explain your last line, "But I would have hung my sweeper..." I'm struggling to interpret.
Loved your comment.

My Scots Grandma used to say "sangwiches". Thanks for reminding me. Also, love John Hartford. My husband met him once, in (no kidding) Hartford.

Posted by Barb Manicatide August 28, 2012 at 5:48 PM

My sailing husband calls it "boiling water." When you go up a lock, it fills with churning water under your boat.

Must have been quite unnerving in a small kayak to see that water trying to get in behind you!

Wayne, PA

Posted by Anonymous August 28, 2012 at 8:08 PM
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