We called ourselves everything from the Texas Army-Navy to the Flotilla au Fools to the Pirates of Buffalo Bayou.
Our little nine-mile canoe and kayak trip through west Houston last Saturday was a lot of fun. It was nice spending recreational time with friends from the Texas Army. Of course it didn’t start out that way, but hey, we got over it.
The day trip was planned (and I use that term loosely) by my good friend Steve Roberts. He created an event on Facebook on the group page for The Texas Army (1836 historical re-enactment group) and everything kind of fell into place. About two dozen of us showed up at the designated time and place, the latter half straggling in after recovering from misdirection on Google Maps.
It was only the second time in 37 years that I’d set sail aboard the Tinytanic. She’s an old 18-foot aluminum Grumman canoe that was salvaged from the depths of the Platte River in Colorado back in the late 1970s. We used it for two 50-mile canoe trips while I was in the Boys Scouts.
The Tinytanic was found half-buried in a sand bar with several rips torn in the side. My dad acquired it from a friend and riveted patches over the tears. Those patches and sealants have held strong ever since. I dubbed the canoe the Tinytanic in a nod to the Titanic because both boats sank.
I took possession of the Tinytanic from my dad in 2012 and brought it to Texas. Other than a brief outing on a lake, the canoe has been resting on sawhorses in my back yard for several years. In the interim, we have changed vehicles several times and no longer have one that can carry a canoe. My friend Tony Montez came to my aid with his trailer and graciously hauled that monster for me.
Once the mighty Texas Army Pirates gathered, we took our watercraft to the launch on the west side of Memorial Park. The “launch” was across a thick, slippery slope of mud. I was joined by a couple I just met, Randy and Deborah. As we shoved off we began our trek ankle-deep in mud with dark storm clouds brewing overhead. We were just a few yards downstream, wobbling badly and trying to find our sea legs when the clouds opened up in a gully gusher.
Rainwater began filling the canoe as Randy and I paddled away. We struggled to navigate the debris-choked waterway. Trees, logs, branches, and tons of trash clogged the early part of our route. If this is what we were in for, I really didn’t want any more of it. The only saving grace to the rain is it washed the mud off our legs, turning the bottom of the Tinytanic into a murky bilge.
Fortunately, the clouds broke, the sun came out and we soon paddled into cleaner waters. Our flotilla spread out and the three of us were intermittently in the lead or somewhere near the front of the pack. It took a while for Randy and I to find a rhythm to our rowing. We mostly navigated by a series of overcorrections. I really felt bad for Deborah, who had to sit on one of the narrow support beams and struggle to keep her balance as we wobbled in the unsteady craft.
As we drifted along near nicer neighborhoods, marveling at some of the mansions, my mind drifted back to those Boy Scout days in 1979 when John Kowalski and I were navigating the canyons of the Green River and Flaming Gorge Reservoir in Wyoming and Utah. That trip was one of the best experiences of my life to that point.
I remembered Kevin McConnell launching bottle rockets at us from his canoe. One of them flew down my flannel shirt, entering at the opening in the neck and exiting out the bottom and exploding at my feet. I was screaming like a banshee but everyone else was laughing so hard I couldn’t stay angry for long.
Paddling along Buffalo Bayou, it was hard to tell at times that you were in the heart of a large city. We saw all kinds of birds – especially ducks with their ducklings – and turtles. As we got closer to downtown, the group ahead of us stopped under Waugh Drive. We kept going because the smell of the guano from the bat colony was a little overpowering.
The three of us went on ahead a ways. We were now in the neighborhood where Randy and Deborah live. We found a dock and got out to stretch our legs. Randy and Deborah walked up a trail and came back a short time later with snow cones. I was so hot, tired and achy that I didn’t mind the brain freeze as I slurped the sweet concoction down. That respite refreshed us and, as the others caught up, we were ready for the home stretch.
The remainder of the trip downtown was nice but noisy as we paddled under Interstate 45 and other roads before ending our excursion at the docks between Main and Fannin streets. There we pulled out of the water and began the process of retrieving trucks and loading canoes and gear.
Although our flotilla was about as organized and gung-ho as Sam Houston’s army, we somehow managed to complete our quest in just over three hours, nearly half the time Google Maps said it should have taken us.
As members of the Texas Army, we are normally re-enactors who spend our weekends in the spring shooting muskets and cannons at each other. On this day we were a naval force armed with enthusiasm and powered by a few adult beverages and Gatorade. The camaraderie was great and I’m anxious to do it again sometime.
If there was one thing I did learn along the way it was the power of plastic trash and the huge, negative impact it has on the environment. Most of the garbage we saw had obviously just run off into the bayou from the rainstorm. In a few days it will work its way to the Houston Ship Channel and into Galveston Bay. This manmade mess is preventable and we need to find a way to stop it and clean it up.
In the meantime, the Tinytanic is being cleaned and prepped for the next journey. I’m thinking next time my fishing pole will need to be stowed onboard along with a lot more to drink – as long as it’s not in plastic bottles.