Monday, October 15, 2012

Florence, Alabama to Wheeler Dam

September 26-28, 2012

We got a leisurely start out of Grand Harbor because we only had 40 miles to go and no dams. Cbay started ahead of us.  Native Son stayed behind to deal with prop issues for the umpteenth time. Everyone who tries to fix their problem seems to make it worse.  We are crossing our fingers for them this time!  Ah, boats!

As we pulled away from the marina, we once again found ourselves at the intersection of three states – Tennessee on the left, Alabama ahead, and Mississippi on the right. This is entrance to the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway that leads down to Mobile, and we will return to this spot in late October after our trip to Chattanooga and following the Looper Rendezvous.


But for now we were traveling up Lake Pickwick towards Florence, Alabama. The passing scenery was very pretty – heavily wooded lakeside with no industry, relatively little residential development and no barge traffic. Very little boat traffic of any kind actually, except for the ubiquitous bass boats. Just my opinion, but bass boat fishing strikes me as a boring pastime. The guys (and a few women) stand up in these boats for seemingly hours on end hoping to catch a fish, and suddenly take off at great speed (and those boats do go very fast), to cast their lines in another spot where they must believe the fish will be biting in the next 60 seconds.  We have seen one person actually bring in a fish and it caused a lot of excitement, so I think I’m right that it doesn’t happen very often.


When we arrived at the Florence Harbor Marina, Cbay was there waiting to catch our lines. Rusty had offered to help us with a couple of boat projects, so we borrowed the marina car and went to Home Depot for supplies. Florence is the biggest town we’ve been in since Chicago, and once again I found myself feeling sort of unnerved by strip malls and busy traffic.  It’s much more peaceful on the water!  Back at the boat, and armed with all manner of new cords, cables and connectors from Home Depot, Craig spent some time reattaching the main grounding cable for the boat while Rusty figured out how to connect our TV to dockside cable.  Thank you, Rusty!  It was kind of disappointing to discover that the only thing the marina cable was able pick up was Judge Judy, but at least we know it works.

The next morning I went into town for a much needed haircut while Craig ran other errands with the use of the marina courtesy car. On the way back we drove through old downtown Florence, which has several attractive shops and restaurants. It is also the site of Northern Alabama University, which has a very pretty campus, and amazingly, a very well-done lion habitat with waterfall, stream and caves – and two fully grown lions, Leo and Una! – right on campus. The habitat is very nice, probably better than many zoos, but we couldn’t help thinking that this looked like an opportunity for a fraternity prank that could turn out very, very badly!

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One of the things we have really enjoyed about traveling the Loop is that it gives us opportunities to visit places and have experiences that we never would have anticipated. For example, that afternoon we visited the Helen Keller birthplace and home, a destination that certainly had never been on our radar. We had a very interesting tour of the home and grounds – including the famous pump where Anne Sullivan helped Helen to understand her first word, “water.”  She went on to become a  highly educated and very influential woman, and a tireless advocate for the blind and hearing impaired. Craig’s dad was involved with the Lions Club for years, so we were interested to learn that it was a speech by Helen Keller at their 1925 International Convention that prompted the Lions to adopt blindness as a signature cause, a commitment that continues today.

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Returning to the marina, we had one last opportunity to stop for groceries.  We decided to pass!

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The next morning we continued upriver towards our next destination, Joe Wheeler State Park, near Rogersville, Alabama. Almost immediately beyond the Florence Harbor, we locked through the Wilson Lock, the highest lock on the Tennessee River – 93 feet. For a long time, it was the highest lift lock in the world.  It is still the highest lock on the Loop.  Entering the lock is like driving into a canyon.

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For the next 15 miles, we cruised up Wilson Lake.  Unlike most of the other lakes on the Tennessee, the shoreline of Wilson Lake is fairly well populated with private homes.  The reason for this is that Wilson Dam, the oldest on the river, was built before the creation of the TVA, and large numbers of private homeowners already owned waterfront property.  As other dams were built, the TVA retained control over almost all the newly created shoreline, which is why there is little private development on most of the lakes.

Our second lock of the day, Wheeler Lock, opens into Wheeler Lake, where we would spend the next couple of days at Joe Wheeler State Park Marina, the site of the Looper Rendezvous in late October. We were the only transient boaters there when we arrived. We had dinner on board and and a good bottle of wine to celebrate the one-year anniversary of buying our boat, which happened last year on September 28.  Happy anniversary, Blue Heron – you’ve taken us a long way in the past year!


We also toasted daughter Karen, who on September 28 completed her last day of working at the University of Oklahoma before moving to Indianapolis to take an exciting job with the NCAA. We are so excited for this great opportunity for her, and so happy for us that she will be only an hour and a half from us in Cincinnati – once we return to Cincy, that is!  Congratulations, Karen!

Next, Joe Wheeler State Park to Ditto Landing near Huntsville, Alabama.

(Real-time update: On October 15, still in Guntersville, AL.  Moving on tomorrow to Ditto Landing, round two.)

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