It had been the wettest summer yet. Constant rainfall had already cancelled one weekend ride, and now the annual GreenHulk MudBug was looking to fall as well. Levees had swollen past their emergency levels and even began to spill over their berms, shutting down much of the Delta region. A natural disaster was on the brink, and GreenHulk’s Jerry Gaddis had to make the difficult decision to postpone the year’s festivities. I had already packed for the weekend, so the sudden cancellation left me all dressed up with nowhere to go. That was when the email came through.
“Hey Kevin, it’s Greg Tate from The Aquaholics,” the letter wrote. “We’re going down to Jasper, Alabama for two days to ride on Lewis Smith Lake and think you should join us.” The three-fingered lake is a reservoir in northern Alabama, just off of the Sipsey Fork on the Black Warrior River. Created by Alabama Power as a result of the construction of the Lewis Smith Dam – one of the largest earthen dams in the eastern United States – Lewis Smith Lake as over 500 miles of shoreline, and The Aquaholics were raring to see every inch of it.
The Aquaholics are a self-described group of “elite jet ski riders that travel and tours the waters and bayous of the Southeast.” And while that might sound grandiose, the group I met were anything but haughty. Hailing from Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee, the group of two dozen riders ranged in age from their mid-40s to late-60s, and rode skis as diverse as a 20-year-old two-stroke Polaris to 310-horsepower Kawasaki Ultras. Tate had assured me that food and gas were plentiful on the lake and the weekend wouldn’t surpass 200 miles, so the need for extra gas and provisions was unnecessary.
Rather, it was expected to be a gorgeous weekend of clear skies, temperatures in the mid-80s, and mild wind in the afternoon. Smith Lake is also known for several attractions, including half a dozen waterfalls and plenty of cliff diving opportunities, including the infamous 70-foot Indian Head cliff. Unbeknownst to our group, two deaths had been reported where the victims just didn’t surface after their leap. Had I known beforehand, I might not have made the plunge before the crowd (and my 7-year-old daughter). A second spot was found a day later where most enjoyed leaping from a more suitable 6-foot ledge.
Surprisingly, as we ventured from one waterfall to the next, the flow was all but a trickle in most places despite the week’s worth of rainfall days previously. Nevertheless, we never missed a chance to idle through the showers, cooling ourselves in the brisk falls. Other notable features included the Smith Lake Mansion, a bizarre hodgepodge of art deco and hobbit-hole architecture styles. Lakefront homes ranged from fishing cabins to unmitigated estates, one wielding a 3-story waterslide that began up the hill above one home and all the way down into the lake. Although boat traffic was thick in places, the lake was large enough to allow plenty of room to maneuver around without thumping through too much chop.
Before heading home, we made two more stops: the first to Full Moon Bar-B-Q, an Alabama local chain loved by natives (and rightly so. The brisket is DEA Schedule 1 drug-level addictive); and second, to swing into a Piggly Wiggly for two cases of Grapico soda, which is the best-tasting grape soda ever. No journey into Alabama goes without managing to check these two achievements off my list. With full bellies, and the cooler restocked, I bid farewell to The Aquaholics and ventured back north towards the Mason-Dixon. It wasn’t the same as slipping beneath the hanging Spanish moss of the Louisiana bayou, but it was just as fun. …And just to prove it we made this video: