You’d think I would’ve planned for this a lot better, but as I scrambled to pack the truck after making the last minute decision to join the Tennessee Waterfall Adventure, I realized that I had left a few things off of my list. But hold on, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me back up a little…
I had just returned the loaded-to-the-rafters 2022 Ultra 310LX back to Kawasaki a day earlier. In its stead, Kawasaki handed me the lanyard to a really orange 2023 Ultra 160LX-S. Although down significantly on horsepower from the golden LX, the 160LX-S promised demonstrably better fuel mileage with all of the comfort of the recent redesign.
Unlike the 310LX and its naturally-aspirated 160 counterpart, the 160LX-S doesn’t come standard with the quartet of speakers and dual USB ports in the waterproof glove box. Gone too is the short-but-surprisingly-effective wind screen of the LX. Rather, the LX-S is what I’d call the ideal tow-rig for the family.
It’s bright, it’s stable and seats three comfortably; comes equipped with the Ultra Deck (adding 200mm – or 7.9-inches – of length to the rear) and its Multi-Mount rail system as well as the reverse facing camera lens. This feature alone is a major draw, as it allows the driver to view the raft or towable behind them at three different zoom levels through the TFT dash.
The rear camera and the reinforced stainless tow eye are below the rear passenger’s seat, above the wet storage cubby pocket (ideal for a dock line or tow rope). Unfortunately, these are completely blocked when equipped with Kawasaki’s rear cargo rack. The rack is substantive, measuring 31-inches wide, 21-inches deep and 14-inches tall.
Ours came equipped with the optional Kawasaki Green-and-branded Orca 40-quart cooler, which had we packed it sufficiently, would’ve survived us a whole week. The rack’s supplied cargo net simply didn’t fit the cooler and the big Orca fit a little too loosely in the rack, but those are all notes for a later, more detailed review.
Rather, since I had just picked up the Ultra 160, I figured a good break-in would be joining the Great Lakes Ski Riders and Jetrider Nation for at least part of their weekend ride. Prior commitments meant I could only attend Friday, and since Tennessee lakes can quickly fill up on Saturdays and Sundays, only being free for Friday was a happy coincidence.
Thankfully, my oldest daughter was happy to come along for the day. She’s been tagging along for rides since she was 6 years old, so this is old hat territory. We loaded up sunscreen, water, towels…pretty much everything we’d need. Yet, somehow I forgot to set any waypoints on my GPS or bothered to bring it at all!
But hey, I had been on Center Hill Lake a couple of times, I rationalized. We’d be fine…
Setting in at Ramp #2 around 8am, we eyed license plates from as north as Michigan and as south as Dade County, Florida. It took a quick second to launch and tie up the Kawasaki, but by then, the cove was already packed with skis. I thought our group would be around 20 skis. It turns out that the head count was closer to 80.
Bassil Al-Rubaie runs a tight ship. Running lead and having Manny Arroyo take up the tail, he had the whole group ride single file through the winding lake all the way to Burgess Falls. It had rained in Central Tennessee for nearly a whole week, so all of the waterfalls were in full force, making for some impressive scenery.
Not one to fall in line or follow the leader, Morgan and I peeled off and shot the shoreline; speeding past cliff faces and the low hanging branches of waterside trees. I knew my way to the falls – more or less – and Bassil pointed southeast toward Fall Creek Falls first.
Fall Creek unique as its
Seeing our exploits a half dozen others swam out to join us. Only a couple of our thin-blooded Floridan friends braved the 50-something-degree water, but earned the experience of seeing the backside of water as Morgan and I had.
First in and first out, we loaded the Ultra back up and idled past the group into deeper water. The trail out is a winding track flanked by cliff sides that casts you in shadow throughout much of the day. We exited into wider water and waited for the larger group to fall into formation.
The cruise to Burgess Falls picked up some speed as the channel narrowed, allowing a few of us more daring types to enjoy some speed. The river shrank to a creek and the bottom quickly came into view. Burgess Falls’ water levels were down quite a bit, so had to get out and walk over the rocks to get to them.
A few played in the pond while the rest of us mingled and talked shop. A handful had sucked up a bit of waterlogged wood or grass and needed to clear their pumps – the usual fare for wilderness rides like these. The plan from here was to return the route we had come, passing beneath the Hurricane Bridge and to meet up for a late lunch at the Blue Water Grill in the Hurricane Marina.
Yet before then, we gathered at a small beach at the mouth’s T-intersection for a group photo. The patience of a few feeling the pangs from their empty stomachs began to gripe while some started goading the others with friendly ribbing and playful teasing all in good fun. Nevertheless, folks were hungry and we’re interested in waiting anymore.
Confident that I knew the way, we reboarded the Ultra and followed Will Winters aboard Joe Cornett’s warmed-over RXP-X and a couple of others. The lowly 160LX-S had no chance of hanging with Will and the other 80-plus-mile per hour Sea-Doos, but I could follow their wakes in the distance…until I couldn’t.
Navigating by memory, I idled up to the mouth of the Hurricane Marina. But the sight of distance wakes and three more skiers from our group passing nearby gave me pause. Had I screwed up and this wasn’t the right marina, I second guessed. One of the passing three waved at us to join them, and my doubts got the best of me.
Off we went. After a couple of minutes, my spidey-sense started to tingle. We’ve gone waaay too far. Something’s wrong, I thought. And sure to my instinct, we rounded the corner to Ramp #2. We were back where we started.
What the heck, I yelled, throwing my hands up. The answer back was disheartening. The trio were upset with the ride thus far and were calling it quits early. With the slightest of signals, my phone’s mapping showed us 30 minutes from the marina – the very same that I had stopped at minutes earlier.
Now too low on gas to return by water and without enough time to stop and eat had we had the fuel, I determined that my poor judgement had cost us the rest of the day’s ride. We loaded the Kawasaki up on the trailer, unpacked our cargo and proceeded the one-and-a-half hours’ drive home.
Once within cell signal range, I text both Joe and Bassil explaining my mistake and apologizing for our early departure. Thankfully, the group carried on throughout the afternoon and enjoyed themselves all weekend long, making me all the more resentful that I had doubted my own memory and hadn’t listened to my gut.
Had I the opportunity to do it all over again, I would’ve swallowed my pride and hung closer to the main group. There’s a good reason group leaders put in hours of preparation. Too often we take their leadership for granted and fail to appreciate the effort poured into making these rides happen. So for that, I owe Bassil a big, fat apology.
Guys, I really recommend joining these groups for their adventure rides. The good ones really put in their due diligence to make sure everyone is having a good time and more importantly, comes home safe. If you haven’t already, go check out Jetrider Nation and the Great Lakes Ski Riders. They’re super solid people and a blast to ride with.
Images courtesy of William Winters & Joe Cornett