Adventures on the Coosa

By on 29 May, 2019 in Fun, Kate and Stephen, Outdoors with 1 Comment


We’ve written before about our interest in spending more time on the river that runs through the heart of our city. We’ve also written about some of the challenges in doing so.

Approaching the long Memorial Day weekend with ruthlessly hot temperatures in the forecast, we were feeling the pressure of two particular exigencies: 1. Avoiding the heat; 2. Getting some experience of the natural world. With our local Alabama River presenting few options for non-motorized recreation, we decided to give a try to the nearby Coosa. Trusted authorities pointed us to the Coosa Outdoor Center, just up the road in Wetumpka. We reserved two kayaks for a noon pickup. It would be a Sunday on the Coosa. We imagined hours of lazy time with sunshine and placid water that would help us push past work’s endless demands.

It certainly was sunny. And there were times that we did unspool and coast along the river’s lazy parts. But we got more than expected – in a good way.

Up front, it’s probably important to say that we may be more interested in Alabama’s extensive river network than most people. We have each recently read books about Alabama’s incredible diversity of marine life and aquatic scenery. But you don’t have to be an expert to simply appreciate the exercise from paddling through the incredible beauty around us.

It was extremely hot. Dreaming of swimming holes and having never done this exact trip before, we made the short trip to Wetumpka with a medium sized cooler full of sandwiches, Gatorade and sunblock. Although there is more than one place along the Coosa renting boats, helpful folks directed us to the right place. We’d pre-paid, so check-in was easy after we signed a waiver and got fitted for life vests. We got on a shuttle bus with a few other folks and waited for the peaceful, watery bliss were sure would come next.

It’s not as if there was no tranquil bliss. It’s just that there were also rapids. These were almost certainly small potatoes for people who routinely paddle small boats over frothing water. But they surprised the heck out of us. The safety briefing had basically consisted of “don’t drown.” At no point had anyone told us we’d be trying to keep “nose up, toes up” while madly paddling past a sucking Charybdis more than four feet deep.

One concern became quickly evident. We had brought a cell phone so that we could snap a few leisurely photos. We did bring a plastic sandwich bag in hopes of waterproofing the tech, but we discovered once we got out onto the water that the phone was too big for the tiny baggie. So when the froth started, and the possibility of capsizing became real, we got extremely nervous. A flipped kayak was now not just a fun risk, but also posed the possibility of phone death. We suddenly were asking why we hadn’t been offered the opportunity to buy buoyant and waterproof technology, or at least warned to leave our phone in the car.

The “leisurely cruise” suddenly contained real peril. When the the first of us flipped over, it wasn’t the boat containing the vulnerable phone. The hazard probably didn’t even classify as “real” rapids, but there was some serious chop. Despite a mouthful of the Gulf-bound Coosa, sunglasses and paddle were retained. The sandwiches were not so lucky, absorbing plenty of river water.

Flipping over is a little scary, but not too bad. The water felt great, but the river’s insistent eddy in that area made it difficult to swim much in any direction. An extremely helpful passer-by assisted in the righting of the kayak. It was actually nice to be around some more skilled paddlers. We were super happy that we didn’t have to search the fast-moving river floor for our car keys.

Now faced with the near-certainty that the rapids were likely to tip us over, we rethought our approach to the rest of our trip. A very kind fellow river traveler contributed a large-sized ziploc bag to at least hold the cell phone. This greatly relieved our collective stress, helping us to focus on the journey at hand.

The rest of our Coosa trip found us crossing several choppy patches. These parts proved extremely fun. We came to enjoy sitting back to consider an angle of approach, watching others find paths maximizing fun and safety while following water’s insistent passage downstream.

There are so  many places you can enter a rapids, but ultimately only one way out. There’s probably a metaphor in there somewhere, which you might have time to consider if you weren’t frantically paddling to stop the water from turning you sideways and summarily tossing you aside to become a piece of river debris (not to mention, ruining the consumer electronics that you almost certainly should not have brought with you).

Some of the more experienced folks took breaks along the way, parking their canoes and kayaks on the shore or at small islands to celebrate shared lives in the Alabama summertime. A few of these people had obnoxious music, which takes away a bit from the splendor of nature, but everyone seemed to be having a good time. As they should. It’s summer.

In the end, we both ended up flipping our boats in the roar of the rapids, but we also happily made it to the take-out point with our car keys and cell phone intact. The bright yellow sign and its eager Coosa Outdoor Center staff marked the finish line. We were happy to return to air conditioning, but also a little sad to leave the Coosa River behind. We’ll back though, and we’ll be a little more prepared.

Kate and Stephen are Midtown residents with two cats, a dog, fifteen fish, a garden, an old house and a sense of adventure. They write about life in Midtown here and about life in Montgomery at their blog Lost in Montgomery.

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  1. For those who remember our beloved JimDebortolli, RiteAid pharmacist and neighbor who lost his life kayaking the Coosa, I have wonderful news. Jim’s widow Patti began a new chapter in her life earlier this month when she remarried a man who adores her. Blessings, Patti!

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