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Project Clearwater — Expedition 26

2014-06-06

Project Clearwater — Expedition 26

Fungus among us.

After the last long and rather depressing trip out, this was set to win the “Most Improved”  award by default.  It turned out, however, that last week’s story wasn’t a depressing ending after all, merely a cliffhanger.

With teaching a scuba class on the calendar, this week’s trip down the bayou was shifted to Friday.  It began as usual at the park, and this time the mosquito repellant was not forgotten.  It seems mosquito repellant has currently earned a spot on the minimum equipment list for bayou work, as in the brief time it took to empty the dregs of the can, the ravenous swarm had already made its presence quite apparent.  (Note: remember to restock for the next trip.)  Other than the mosquitoes, however, the bayou and weather were in excellent condition.

Chain gauge at bridge minus two.

The bayou was down about two feet from the previous trip, but at about 2-1/4 feet below the bridge, it was still high enough to require ducking.  At that level, the banks below about mile marker two are still completely inundated, so any hope of finding the GPS receiver somehow lying on the bank was dashed.  Not much of a dashing, of course, as there wasn’t much chance it could’ve ended up on the submerged bank when we paddle within the bayou itself, but one clings to small hopes.  The only remaining possibility, then, was that it was indeed still somewhat afloat somewhere downstream of mile marker 1-1/2, but that was downstream and there was work to be done.

Bridge bolus.

Everything was fine along the bayou at first, and passing under the bridge was no problem at all.  It wasn’t too far downstream, however, before we encountered the predicted raft of flotsam — the bridge bolus!  With the water up against the bridge, everything the collects ends up making a blob of sticks and litter and bayou mulch and so on, and once the water drops, down it goes all at once until it catches in something.  It doesn’t take too much effort to break up the raft and saw up the long logs and branchy sticks, but it generally won’t fall apart by itself.  We’ve predicted that this is likely every time there is a high-water event significantly impinging on the bridge, but as long as it’s not ignored, it shouldn’t prove onerous.  (It only took about 12 minutes to handle this time.)

Small obstruction.

Continuing down the bayou brought only a few small catches and obstructions, most about like the one above.  A few logs to saw or tangled branches to pull out of the water and chop up, but nothing too large or annoying for the most part.  Downed trees or very large logs and trunks floated along during very high conditions are a pain, but the “normal” stuff is no big deal.  On the one hand, there seems to be less of it over time, but on the other hand, there’s plenty left in the system, it seems.  While there will always be a need to stay on top of it, we foresee litter cleanup gradually making up a larger fraction of the work time as the woody work tapers into a more or less steady state.

Around this point in the day, mile marker 1-1/2 finally cruised by on the right.  While the estimated chance of successfully recovery of the GPS receiver was somewhere south of “Yeah, right,” I am a perpetual optimist.  (Actually, I suppose I’d call myself a realist-optimist — I look at the thing and rightfully note, “Well, there’s barely a snowball’s chance, so, que sera,” while simultaneously thinking, “So, you’re saying there’s a chance?”  It’s an interesting life.)  The optimist side of me was in play, so I kept my eyes peeled for a block of wood that, according to simple physics, should be floating at an angle not far off the vertical and mostly submerged.  Then I saw it! There was a piece of wood in the predicted dimensions and orientation.  I quite literally stared at it unblinking as I paddled careful and deliberate draw strokes over to it, then quickly reached out and snatched it from the bayou.

EUREKA!

Eureka! indeed.  After five days submerged in the bayou, I had the GPS receiver back.  It was covered in bayou scum, but that easily wiped right off.  Amazingly, it didn’t *appear* to have suffered water ingress in spite of being rated to survive a mere 30 minutes of immersion according to specs.  Could it be intact?  A quick press of the power button answered that question, as the display came to life as the GPS receiver booted up.  It’s aliiiiive!  Five days of immersion in the bayou had only left it with some slight pretty much cosmetic blemishes, and hey, it *should* have battle scars after that.  I’ll be building a positively-secured yoke mount for it so that it cannot be knocked off in the future, and if anyone wants a recommendation on a GPS receiver for hiking, paddling, etc., I dare say the Garmin eTrex 20 works for me.

I got a bad treeeeeee!

Feeling much, much brighter than the trip previous, it was on down the bayou.  Various small bits rapidly succumbed under the assault of saws and other hand tools.  It seems the hand saw handle that’s been delaminating for several weeks now has finally given up.  (Apparently they’re not rated for so much wet time, much of it actually spent cutting underwater.)  Hopefully a handle transplant from another used-up saw will bring it back.  Otherwise, it’ll be carving time (perhaps even in plastic).  Of course, when you lose your primary saw’s handle, it’s only natural that you come upon a downed tree.

This one was downstream well into the wide-and-open section of Bayou Fountain near Bayou Manchac, but it was tall enough that it fell all the way across.  Go figure.  Even better was that it was *extensively* covered in a large amount of vines.  The vines were quite effective at binding the branches together even after they were cut (with folding backup saw number one).  It ended up taking two hours of sawing and slicing and using a folding saw as a rather vicious scythe before enough of the top had given up to open a decent paddleway through on the downstream-left side, but give up it did, and the way was once again open.

The way is not shut.

With enough of the downed tree vanquished, it was onward to the confluence.  Arriving at Bayou Manchac around noon was a welcome change from last time around, and arriving with a full complement of gear (less the expendable saw handle) made it all the better.  After a pause for contemplation, it was back up the bayou heading back to the park.  No speed bumps or other fun souvenirs along the way this time, and only one banded watersnake (which slid off into the water instead of posing as usual), but when you get an expensive piece of gear back, who needs souvenirs?

It felt quite unusual to be back in the car and on the road by two in the afternoon, but the bayou was clear and all was well.  The downed tree may yet have a few branches to trim when the water level drops, but it should be clear enough deep enough not to be a problem, regardless.  There are still some long logs out there, and several full large trunks, but for the moment, they seem fine.  I almost want to collect more detailed data on their quantity, but too much data might make the job seem too large.  We’ll just stick with handling things as they present themselves as we enjoy the great bayou.

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