By Shelia Hayes, aka "Chipola River Rat"
Well, "Hey Folks"!
As I am sitting up river from my house in my boat and listening to the mullet jumping nearby, I am reminded by the good Lord just how blessed I am to live and travel on our sweet Chipola River. It is a sunny Sunday and I am soaking up some sunshine and watching my two dogs play in the cool river waters.
My mind soon starts wandering down the Chipola and back to one beautiful May morning. Our driver, Ralph Oliver, put me and my canoe (The Nova 16), along with his wife and my good friend Peggy Oliver and her kayak (Speed Demon) into the river at Peacock’s Bridge landing at 7:15 am. Our adventure is to take us to Paradise, our moored houseboat, which is far down river very close to the Hwy 20 Bridge.
That’s right, I said the Hwy 20 Bridge! Thanks to Ralph & Shorty Hayes for getting up and helping their wives get their gear together. Folks, this was the longest trip we had ever traveled with no motor and no gas (Hootie Woo Whoo!).
We weren’t sure how long or how many miles we were going to be traveling. All we knew was we were headed for Paradise. As we waved goodbye to Ralph, the only fear we had was the wind. Well, it was just as I imagined it would be, peaceful and just plain beautiful to the eyes. The spider lilies were in full bloom and along the way we got to see our first bald eagle. We paddled down to the first wide shoal we came to and interrupted the beautiful bird’s fishing trip.
Wow! It was for our eyes only though since I couldn’t get my camera out fast enough. The beauty of the wonderful eagle was breath taking. I have been living on the Chipola for 17 years this November and I’ve seen a lot of cool wildlife. But getting to see that eagle in flight was the highlight of our trip, and we had just got started. (Hootie Woo Whoo!)
As we kept paddling down river we next came upon two baby raccoons taking a morning bath. Around the next curve was a male owl in hot pursuit of a female owl. I paddled right under him and he didn’t even notice. It seemed that Mother Nature had certainly showed up for mine and Peggy’s trip.
As we kept paddling around curve after curve, Peggy would hear me break out in song or say Johnny Boys is just around the curve. Eventually I think I tested my friendship with Peggy with that repeated statement as endurance became a factor on our longest trek. We made it to Johnny Boys about 10:30 and stopped to eat a snack and take a dip.
While we were there we talked to two young men sitting on the bank and we told them where we were headed. They said, "No way will you make it by dark." Little did they know they were talking to two "Chipola River Rats.
It was just us and nature -And it was awesome! As we headed down to "Look and Tremble" we stopped to make sure everything was secured in our rigs and that we were ready for the rapids. I shouted to Peg "put your paddle up in the air" and off we went, shooting into the white water. It’s an exciting ride through "Look and Trimble, but it can be navigated. Just stay to the left bank of the river, and go for it. We made it through with no damage done, just a little water splashing from the waves. (Hootie Who Whoo!)
As we made it to Lam Eddie we got to see the dancing of the Lord God Woodpeckers. We also met a very nice fisherman who thought we were great outdoors women. He had a mess of fish which he proudly displayed to us, and a very cute Bulldog puppy on board. He gave us the thumbs up and told us we were going to make it to Paradise.
Finally, after what seemed to be hours of ceaseless paddling, we made it to the Ten Mile Creek where we have previously taken a many of bath and stopped to drink a cold one. There we got to talk to a local woman who was sitting on her dock. She was very impressed that we had made it so far in a single day. We knew we still had about another 5 miles to Paradise, so we said our good byes.
Well folks remember I initially told ya’ll we were fearful of the wind. As Peggy was passing me on her Kayak (Speed Demon), the wind suddenly had me and my Novelle Canoe gripped in a whirl-wind. I couldn’t paddle hard enough to keep up with Peggy in the windy conditions. I was getting no where and tiring fast! Then all of a sudden, coming up the river in a beautiful boat, was a site for sore eyes and sore hands. It was our other Chipola River Rat girlfriend Shirley Sims. We were so glad to see her! (Hootie Whooo Whoo!).
We eagerly grabbed on to her boat until the wind calmed down, and boy was I glad to be out of that whirl-wind. We were finally able to paddle our way to the prettiest site on the river that day- except for seeing the Bald Eagle.
Finally, we made it to Paradise! Then, "Home Sweet Home". For the rest of the weekend we enjoyed a homemade houseboat that sits under a beautiful old oak tree. It has two sets of metal bunk-beds, a five gallon bucket and a nice big deck to fish from. Mrs. Shirley tore them up.
The rest of the trip was continued on Sunday, and we did make it to the Highway 20 Bridge with no problems. It took Peggy and I from 7:15 am to 2:30 pm on Friday to make it to our Paradise, eight hours of hard paddling. (Thanks Hank). We had such a good time on that houseboat from Friday to Sunday. We cooled, fished, boat rode, sang and even had company. A great time was had by all (Hootie Whoooo Whoo!).
Our family has spent many birthdays, girls weekends, and even my husband and I spent our 15th wedding anniversary in Paradise. I hope by the pictures accompanying this story, you will come to understand why we go to the river as often as we can.
So Chipola River Rats, if you come by our houseboat, give us a wave with your hands, not your boats. Or better yet, stop in for a cold drink and some great stories. This was a great trip with two of my lifelong friends, Shirley (Rebel) Sims, and Peggy (Wildcat) Oliver.
The sites and sounds we experienced will be with me for the rest of my life. I am sure we will be sitting on the deck of Paradise till we are old and wrinkled. I love y’all, thanks for a great trip!
P.S. I just want to thank Clint Cox and the whole crew at the Jackson County Times for all their hard work they do every week. And thanks for letting me tell you of just one of my many good times that I have shared with great friends and family. I hope you will take time to enjoy the Chipola River.
From the porch on the Chipola: Mrs. Mildred Martin always said to me "Go make it happen, don’t wait for it to happen… I miss you Mrs. Mildred!
Rollin’ Down the River is a weekly summertime feature of the Jackson County Times that highlights the Chipola River through pictures, stories and articles For more photo, please see Freeze Frame on back page.