I put in at the Killen boat ramp late in the afternoon. The upstream paddle normally takes about two hours and I thought I would arrive at the bridge before sunset. As usual, the boat ramp area was littered. There was a line with a fish hook hanging near the put-in and I had to be careful just getting my boat in the water and my body in the boat. However, someone has lashed two tires to the concrete seawall adjacent to the boat ramp, so entering my cockpit wasn't too difficult after I tied my bow to one of the anchoring rings.
My paddle upstream was fairly difficult. Paddling upstream always requires effort, and I faced occasional headwinds up to 5 knots. I did not encounter any boats or jet skis for the first hour of my trip.
About 3 knots upstream, there is a surprisingly shallow area. The waterfront residents had placed some type of balloons in the water in particularly shallow areas. The creek was, at times, barely a foot deep. This is probably why I did not encounter any boat traffic. The shallows only lasted for a few hundred yards.
My progress upstream was slower than normal. I typically use a large-bladed, high angle paddle. I recently purchased a low-angle touring paddle and the difference in paddling speed was noticeable. My plan to arrive at the bridge during daylight was negated by my slow paddling speed.
The sun began to set as I turned West on the first dogleg of Shoal Creek. I turned back North just as darkness fell. I noticed that the lights on the docks were particularly bright, but thought it was just a reaction to my hours on the water in good light.
I was approaching the Jackson Hwy Bridge in darkness. I was rather concerned about my night vision - many of the property owners had extremely bright, commercial quality lights on their docks and my night vision was suffering from it. I was about 100 yards downstream of the bridge when a power boater suddenly emerged from under the bridge. He had no lights on whatsoever and was traveling at a high rate of speed. I switched my headlamp to a higher setting and repeatedly moved my head from port to starboard - ensuring that he saw me. The boater saw me but did not decrease his speed. He made a large wake - over one foot just before the bridge pier - the worst possible spot. I quickly make two sweep strokes, turned my kayak perpendicular to his wake, and rode easily over the disturbance. The boat wake rebounded off the shore a couple of times. I rode out the rebounds, turned back North, and passed under the bridge.
I entered the dock area slowly and with my headlamp on its brightest setting. There was substructure floating in the first two slips. I found a relatively safe slip on the third try and put in. I tied off my boat and walked about fifty yards to the nearby convenience store. I ignored the strange looks; the clerk and customers apparently thought I was an alien in wetsuit, neoprene boots, and paddling jacket. I always carry my paddle in such situations (have to watch for aggressive dogs) and I think the clerk first thought I intended to threaten him with my paddle an rob him. I bought a USA Today and a bottle of tea. I returned to the dock, put on my poncho and rain pants to keep warm and took a break.
After my break, I intended to paddle downstream. Although I paddle a great deal at night, I had never been on this waterway in the dark. I boarded my kayak and headed downstream. As soon as I passed the Jackson Hwy Bridge, I was again overwhelmed by the dock lights. I continued paddling for a few hundred yards, but my night vision was absolutely destroyed by the dock lights. Knowing that my paddle involved shallows and possible debris, I decided to terminate my trip and call for assistance.
I returned to dock tied off my boat. I couldn't get a cell phone signal, so I returned to the convenience store. The clerk smirked and made a comment about paddling at night in "one of those things." I started to inform him that people paddle "those things" up to icebergs and across the English Channel, but knew it would be a waste of time. People usually view kayaking from the perspective of power boat fishermen rather than from the perspective of a skilled, dedicated mariner.
I called my cousin and described my situation. She retrieved the float plan I had left with her and told me not to worry, that help was on the way. A friend was enlisted to accompany her to my vehicle at the Killen boat ramp. I waited less than an hour until I saw my van approaching the bridge. I turned away from the bridge and turned my strobe light on - in a manner and direction that would not interfere with road traffic. My cousin and her friend were not familiar with the area, but the combination of my float plan (with map) and my strobe light ensured that they could find me.
I returned home somewhat disappointed. I was looking forward to a couple of hours in the dark, but the situation was simply not safe. However, I returned home safely and that is the ultimate goal of every float trip.
This is a nice paddle in daylight. Be aware that warm weather and daylight will expose you to jet skiers - I recommend this trip only on warm weekdays (never weekends) or cold weather.
The slips at Jackson Hwy are particularly bad. Be aware of broken dock planks. Some metal dock framing protrudes from the docks and can easily catch your boat, paddle, or arm.
Be careful. Both these locations are intended for the power boat crowd. Crime does not appear to be an issue, but one of my paddling companions was cut by broken glass at the Jackson Hwy location.
The Jackson Hwy boat ramp is immediately Northwest of the bridge.