The Middle Tennessee Personal Watercraft Club (MTPWC) is our local club here in Nashville, Tennessee. Last year we did our first Ironman ride, wherein we cover a great distance in a single day. In 2016, we rode the Cumberland River, making three lock-throughs, and covered 253 miles. This year we chose not go for a single day record but a weekend event – the thought was to do a multiple day ride, 3 days and 400-plus miles. Starting from and returning to the same location, we picked Paris Landing State Park located in Buchanan, TN on Kentucky Lake.
It had been raining here in Middle Tennessee for a solid week so we came prepared for the worst but hoped for the best. All of our gear, clothes, and refreshments would need to be carried with us as there would be no support crew for this ride. We carefully planned fuel stops approximately every 50 miles so all PWC’s would be able to make each leg, and we chose to pace ourselves at 45mph to conserve fuel and enjoy the journey.
Day 1: We shoved off shortly after 9am from Paris Landing. It was a very cloudy day but no rain and temperatures hung in the mid 70’s – perfect for riding. The water was extremely calm but a stronger-than-normal current due to the rainfall the past week. Still, this was no concern with the scheduled fuel stops. As we headed upstream, we passed the Old Danville Grain Elevator in operation until the 1940’s when the TVA started clearing the land for the creation of Kentucky Lake. Now partially submerged, it is a very unusual sight.
Our first fuel stop, just a short 32 miles from our starting location, was at Pebble Isle Marina in New Johnsonville, TN. There we fueled the skis and took a short break. Afterwards we continued the ride upstream towards Clifton City Marina. This would be our second fuel stop and lunch break. We fueled our skis and our bodies – and who could leave without grabbing an ice cream? Back underway, the river is much narrower here with steep banks and rolling countryside marked with many elevated homes along the bank.
Spotting a head poking through the water, we stopped as a coyote was crossing the river and watched him until he made shore on one of the many river islands we passed. Afterwards we continued to Pickwick Lock & Dam. As we approached, the water was extremely turbulent as they had several gates open dumping water downstream from Pickwick Lake. Construction of Pickwick Lock & Dam began in 1934 and was completed in 1938. The dam itself is 113 feet high and stretches nearly a mile and a half across the Tennessee River with two lock chambers and a lift of 63-feet.
We timed our arrival just perfect as two cruisers were entering the lock. We let them proceed then entered behind them. Once inside, we tied multiple skis to the floating bollards for a lift up to Pickwick Lake. It takes about 20 minutes to fill the chamber. Once we were at lake elevation, the gates opened and we proceeded once getting the “go ahead” from the lock master. After leaving the lock, we rode upstream a short distance to go swimming in a cove and reflect on the ride. Afterwards we crossed the lake to Pickwick Landing Marina for fuel before docking the skis for the night in a friend’s vacant slip then shuttled over to the adjacent hotel. Mission accomplished: our ride today was 151 miles.
Day 2: We departed Pickwick Landing at 9am, heading upstream toward Wilson Lock – that would be the entire length of Pickwick Lake. We were joined by a few other friends bringing the PWC count up to fourteen. Our first stop was “The Trail of Tears” historical marker in Waterloo, AL. This was a departure site for the Cherokee who had been evicted from their homes by then-President Andrew Jackson and forced to head west to Oklahoma in 1838. Those leaving from this location would have been traveling the Tennessee River by steamboat.
After a short break, we headed back upstream passing under the Natchez-Trace Parkway Bridge then up to Cane Creek. This side trip ran us up and behind the Colbert Steam Plant. The winding creek was narrow with many turns and three bridges. After the run up and back, we continued the ride upstream. After passing under the Highway 79 bridge, we veered left and up the Florence Canal to Wilson Dam Lock, then back to the Hwy 79 bridge up and across the Tennessee River to Wilson Dam Waterfalls in Muscle Shoals, AL.
After a few photos, we headed downstream to Florence Harbor Marina for fuel and lunch. This is a favorite stop for local boaters and residents as the food was some of the best marina food we have ever had [including a peanut butter chocolate pie that truly is reason enough to return next year – Ed]. Next, we made a nonstop run back downstream to Cooper Hollow Cove through some increasingly worsening chop. In the back of the cove is a waterfall with plenty of shade, making it a popular hangout. There, we tied all our skis together from the bank and hung out for an hour or so, swimming and cutting up.
We were joined by a couple other friends that stopped to visit. Our next jaunt was down the Tenn-Tom Waterway into Mississippi as far as fuel would allow (and still get back to the marina without another fuel stop). We were able to ride about 15 miles down the Tenn-Tom before being forced to return to Pickwick Marina. We were all beeping upon arrival, our skis begging for fuel! Today’s ride an awesome 142 miles. Saturday night was spent at Freddy T’s Restaurant & Beach Club in Counce, TN for dinner and drinks.
Day 3: We all met in the lobby at 8:30am for a ride to the marina. It was a bittersweet moment as we knew we would be returning back to Paris Landing, our weekend ride was coming to a close. We were lucky that after a week of rain, all weekend we had a dry weather with temperatures in the 90’s and we all had the burnt skin to show for it. The goal today was to hit it hard and fast as we all knew from experience that the later in the day you hit the main body of Kentucky Lake, the rougher it becomes.
We arrived at Pickwick Lock around 9:15 and contacted the lock master. He quickly got us in and locked through. The return route would be the same as Friday but in reverse, stopping for fuel at Clifton City Marina, Pebble Isle and then to Paris Landing ramp. We had an impressively smooth ride back, gliding across unbroken glass (except for the occasional barge traffic), and passing through what felt like miles of swarming gnats, peppering all of our glasses, faces and skis. We arrived at Paris Landing around 1:15pm. With that we added another 137 miles, bringing our total to 430 miles – truly an Ironman weekend!