Recently I went with the local Scout Troop on a 50-mile canoe trek down the Bogue Chitto river! The weather was perfect and we saw a ton of interesting flora and fauna, but like any adventure, it had its share of misadventure and those misadventures always make the best stories!
Like that time that LEECHES wrecked my boat!
The name, Bogue Chitto is Choctaw for “Big Creek.” The Bogue Chitto river runs from Lincoln County down through southwest Mississippi into Louisiana to join with the Pearl River at the Bogue Chitto National Wildlife Refuge south of Bogalusa (Choctaw for “dark waters”).
It was a warm, sunny Friday afternoon when we put three canoes and a kayak into the Bogue Chitto at the Pike 93 North Bridge in Holmesville with the intention of paddling 50 miles over the course of two days to the State Park takeout south of Franklinton, Louisiana.
That first afternoon we were slower than expected but we made it past the Hwy 98 bridge, the water park, and past Walker’s bridge to camp on a gravel bar on the east side of the river. It was an astoundingly beautiful night with so many stars visible that it was difficult to find any of the commonly visible constellations.
I did, eventually, find The Serpent and Lady Cassie sitting up there looking down on us. If they had any foreknowledge of the Annelid horror that awaited us the next day, they didn’t mention it.
Because we were slower than expected the first afternoon, the second day was to be a long, hard paddle with the goal of making greater than 20 miles progress toward our 50-mile goal. So we woke and broke camp in the minutes before dawn, choked down a cold breakfast, and set out!
After a few minutes of working out the kinks from a night of camping on gravel and the sore muscles of the previous day, we found we were making good progress. The Bogue Chitto is a quite variable river – in places slow and wide and in places much swifter. Some sections even feature some mild (Class-II) rapids.
After making good progress throughout the morning, we stopped for a few minutes on a muddy sandbar just before a sharp westward bend in the river. It was pleasant to walk around and stretch and eat something, but we were still under a feeling of time-pressure. Every minute that we stayed on that sandbar was 300 feet that we were not progressing toward our appointed 50-miles. So, we hopped back in our boats and pushed back out into the stream.
If you let a canoe drift along in the current, especially in a winding river, it will meander and spin out of control. They are much easier to control when they are moving forward faster than the current, so as we floated out into the swiftly-moving current and began to sweep around the bend in the river, we began paddling hard to get some momentum.
We were probably moving 4-5 miles per hour (that’s pretty good speed in a 17′ metal canoe) when we rounded the bend in the river and ran smack-dab into a maze of fallen trees and submerged tree stumps – and that’s just the moment our fearsome riverine foes had been waiting for to spring their ambush!
About the time we rounded the bend and realized there were obstructions ahead, the Scout that was in the front of my canoe looked down and discovered that at the muddy sandbar he had gotten dozens of tiny leeches on his feet and shins and calves!
To say he spazzed out would be putting it mildly. He dropped his paddle and started swiping at the leeches on his legs. It was apparent that we were not going to be able to stop in the middle of these rapids – and it was equally apparent that I would not be getting any assistance in maneuvering our boat through the logjam, so I set about trying to provide both power and steering.
Whew! I can tell that you are becoming over-wrought at the turn our tale has taken. Let’s take a break for a moment and have a little science lesson to clear our minds a little bit and let our hearts stop racing!
Do you remember commercials some years back that informed us that car crashes at speeds as low as 5mph can still be quite violent? Here is a little demonstration of just how violent a 4-5mph crash can be.
Now that you are calmed down some, we can return to our gruesome tale. When last we left, not only had our heroes had been swept around a blind bend in a south-Mississippi river into some rapids congested with fallen trees, but the front-man in the canoe had suddenly been incapacitated by an attack from dozens of leeches!
It was at that fateful moment that our canoe ran head-on into an invisible submerged log and stopped dead still in an instant! Some people in a canoe behind us said it looked a lot like the “Convincer” video above, “One moment they were paddling blithely along and the next moment Pat was just gone!”
That’s right. The force of our 4-5mph collision ejected me from the canoe into the rapids, banging my left knee painfully on the gunwale of the canoe, plunging me into the chilly, autumnal, artesian waters, and leaving my Scout in the canoe plucking annelids from his legs.
Fortunately, Scouts are always prepared, and in typical Scout fashion we were wearing our PFDs – you know the orange horsecollar-style near-shore PFDs that make both Scouts and adults look like total geeks! Thanks to my geeky orange PFD, I didn’t drown.
I finally got over the surprise of the sudden stop and the plunge into the cool water and I clambered back into the canoe.
My Scout in the front of the canoe finally got all the leeches plucked out from between his toes. We never figured out where he waded that the rest of us hadn’t but he was the only one to get leeches on him.
We eventually made our 50-mile goal with only a couple more unpleasant surprises (but that’s a story for another day).