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Elkhorn Creek


Thursday, May 7, 2008



Opportunity cost. 


Even if it could mean a good deal of money and some level of added comfort in regard to your perceived livelihood, should you pass up the non-material opportunities that your life presents to you in order to stay in and wait for the material ones? 


I’d waited for something to come up for me, you see.  I’d stayed in a week waiting for this, and it was getting to the point of being obsessed because I was fearful that if I stopped my vigil for even one minute that I would really miss out. 


It hadn’t been that bad.  Nearly 2 weeks of rain had soaked the trails so hiking wasn’t an option for me (I wait a while after a rain shower so I don’t mess them up too much), and the possibility that lightning could accompany the rain had helped to keep me indoors and away from kayaking as well. 


I can only keep this up for a certain amount of time, however, before I start to feel a little down.  I simply need to get myself out there in order to both feel happy in general and to feel content that I’m really experiencing life – especially during the spring.  So...  I just had to take a chance and get out today even though I knew that with my luck I’d surely miss the opportunity I’d been sitting on almost every waking minute for an entire week (and I did – missed it by a little over an hour).


Still hopeful in the morning, however, I left for Canoe Kentucky (  Based in Peaks Mill (near Frankfort), Canoe Kentucky is an outfitter which is run by some true professionals who have had the incredible good fortune of being able to earn a living on this absolute sweetheart of a creek!  In fact, it was on this stream that I’d first developed a passion for the sport in 2007.


The Elkhorn eventually flows into the Kentucky River, but before it does so it takes you on one incredibly scenic and enjoyable ride through the farmlands of Kentucky!  I’ve been out here about a dozen times and I never tire of it.



Today it would show me something different too - I’d gotten used to low water levels with the general lack of rain we’ve had over the last couple of summers.  Today, however, I’d never seen the creek so high, and it would open my eyes to some new things as well as to some other opportunities (for opportunity would turn out to be the theme today).


Now just getting out here is usually a pleasant drive through the country from Lexington, but today much of the roadside landscape was being torn up to make room for some kind of pipeline they were putting in.  This was a real shame because there were some people who had had their entire front lawns taken out.


Are there some things in your life that you’ve experienced to such a large degree in such a short amount of time that you think you may go crazy if you ever even see them again?  Well, construction has become like that for me.  That’s totally unrealistic and “progress” must happen, but there’s been SO much of it in the last few years!  It seems like there must be 3 dwellings for every person in the country and now they’ve got to put in even more infrastructure to sustain them!  This doesn’t bode well – this building boom combined with the demographic trends could lead to a decades-long construction malaise which we’ve only begun to see the effects of in terms of property values.  [Update:  Seems I was a bit harsh...  I came back several months later and found that they'd made very quick work of this project.  In fact, there was almost no evidence that anything had ever been done.] 


I digress…  You’ll cross over the north branch of the Elkhorn as you pass through Switzer, Kentucky on KY1262 (if you come out this way) and here, receded a little bit from the side of the road, you’ll be able to catch a glimpse of a rare covered bridge.  A historical marker indicates that there used to be over 400 of these in Kentucky, but there are only 13 left according to a web page I found (  This great page also contains a 2 day itinerary for visiting all of these bridges. This particular one was built in 1855.




Anyway, once I'd reached my destination I felt great!  Coming out here is a rite of greeting the spring, and this would be my first paddling trip of the year in Kentucky.  By the way, the building Canoe Kentucky is located in used to be the town grocery store!  How cool is that?  I peered around the back and got my first idea of how high the water was… 



I’ve been out here at times when you could practically walk all the way across on the streambed rocks, but today there was a real current!  What I like about this outfitter though, is that they have trips for nearly every eventuality and water level - they’ll set you up no matter what.


They’ll also set you up on something else – the best investment I’ve made in the last several years (besides my kayak itself, which I also purchased through them) was made here.  For $100 they’ll give you a lifetime shuttle pass.  This means that if you have your own kayak or canoe, they’ll shuttle you for free after you’ve paid this one-time fee.  It’s a good deal.  In fact, it might just be too good!


At any rate, after checking in I drove up to the put in point for their 12 mile trip.  Sometimes they’ll drive me up with some other people in a van; but on other occasions, if there aren’t too many others making the trip, they’ll let you go up on your own.  When doing this, they instruct you to park in the parking lot for the B.W.A. (Bluegrass Whitewater Association) which is adjacent to some of their land.  This I did.


Just seeing the nice water level in the creek here again was enough to get me pumped – it was really moving, and once on the water it took my boat and propelled me right down.  You know what I also noticed for the first time here, too?  How GREAT and CLEAN the air smells when you’re going down these little chutes of water!  It’s got to be something in the intermingling of the water with the air but, my gosh, it’s fantastic!



As the water begins to slow, you’ll be coasting along (or paddling along at lower water) on a very peaceful section.  While the water at the put-in is usually moving and providing a full immersion into your experience, here is where you’re able to let the atmosphere begin to sink in.  It’s apt to be somewhat shaded here too with a fairly tall tree-lined hill to your left while the right bank will be the tree-lined edge of a farm where it borders the river.  This will hold up for most of the first 6 miles back to the outfitter’s headquarters – the midway point.


The turtles made themselves known immediately today too.  In fact, they were out en-masse!  I’ve never seen so many – and they were bold!  You usually can’t even spot them, you’ll just hear the telltale splash of water which gives them away.  Well today they lined the banks, covered the deadfalls, and climbed the trees!  I’d almost swear that, out of the corner of my eye, I saw one drop from 10 feet up a tree when I startled it!



…and as the water ushered me around the first little island in the middle, I was staring face to face with a goose on the back end!  Hello there!!



The farmland will open up a bit on your right as you progress from here, and I’ll bet if you were to walk up to the top of the bank, you’d be looking at a very pleasant rural scene.  Soon you’ll also come to another little section of white-capped moving water which will curve you right along a section where the left bank has been eroded.


You’ll continue to follow the little contours of the river for the next mile or so, and as you do, you’ll pass more islands as well as some rocky beach areas which are great if you’d like to take a breather or just slow down the day a little.  Sometimes days like this end too early and I’ll get to the midpoint waaaaay before I’d like! 


My favorite relaxation spot on this first half comes up a little further at what, I’m guessing, is about the 4 mile point.  Right before it, you’ll have a long straight section which forms a nice little “alley” in the river, and after a left curve the spot is at what seems to be a large island on the left.  It’s nicely shaded here again too, so you’ll be able to cool off a bit from the warm weather.




After this, another section of whitecap water will chute you down another little portion, and the “claw” portage will come up after a curve right.  This will be indicated by a brown and yellow sign on your left.  All the other times I’ve been out here, I’ve had to take my boat out and port it around the left side here, but today I shot right through because of the higher water.


The claw is over on the right side.  This is a tree in the middle of the water that I’ve been told snags about 9 out of 10 boats, and it’s why they want you to go around left.  Apparently, people attempting to run this will go through the first part of this little rapid section, think they’ve made it, and start celebrating only to be caught by the claw at the end!  How embarrassing would that be!  I would NOT want them to have to come out and extricate me from this circumstance – I’d be absolutely mortified!  I don’t suggest trying it.




It was at around this point that I noticed some fairly lengthy sections of those old stone fences near the left bank...



You’ll pass through another shaded and peaceful, tree-lined area until the farmland will really begin to open up on your right; at which time, you’ll begin to enter the Peaks Mill community.  In fact, you may be able to spot the old, abandoned school that you might have passed on your drive in, and when you begin to see all the kayaks you’ll know that you’ve reached HQ!


They ask you to stop in here in order that they might arrange a pick up time with you.  This will vary, of course, depending on how fast you want to go.  I usually give them an idea of my mindset in this regard, and let them suggest a time.  They’re usually right on the mark although, even if you did have to wait a bit, it wouldn’t be that bad in this environment – you could just float around and laze!


As I got underway again, I took the time to take some photo’s of the beautiful farmland across the way (the open views are on the left side now).



You’ll round a marshy island in the middle (I went around the right and past a rock wall, although you can take the more adventurous left side).



I was also able to explore a little stream that enters the creek from the right after you cross under the bridge for KY1262 - didn’t get up very far but it was kinda cool just to be able to do it.  I recall a rope swing being here too at the mouth of this stream last year, although I didn’t see it today.



The second section is a lot of fun because there’s plenty of moving water on it, and there’s one spot at which the stream splits for a while.  In fact, the first time I came out I was concerned as to whether I’d chosen the correct direction!  Not to worry – they’re both part of the same Elkhorn.  At another spot you can go in what looks like 6 or more different directions!


The 2 way split comes after you cross under a set of power lines.  Going left is generally more of a navigation challenge, albeit a fun one!  Today it was really fun though, because I had the opportunity to move directly through it on a narrow section of water which is totally different from how I’ve seen it in the past. It really shot me down in one nice little ride!



Once the creek comes back together you’ll pass directly beside some farmhouses and come to another shaded flatwater stretch.  You’ll then pass directly by another farmhouse before getting to the other section mentioned above.  This area is just plain fun too, because which direction do you want to go?  There are so many!  On shallow water days I go to the right side until the end and take the very last current through, but when the water is higher, you can go in any direction you want and not get stuck.  Maybe you can try a different one each time you come out!


Somewhere in here I missed the fish hatchery today.  It could have been right after this, and you can’t really see it from the water, but there are some park benches up on the right bank which will generally give it away.  This is the Pfeiffer Fish Hatchery, and according to the gentleman who runs it, they’ll give you a tour on weekdays between 7 and 3, although I’d call them first since they’re apt to be pretty busy (Here's a website with more information about this and other hatcheries in Kentucky:


The time you’ll spend on moving and flatwater will be about equally divided from here on out, and when you see a rock palisade in the distance at the end of a straightaway, you’ll know that you’re getting fairly close to the endpoint of your trip.  This rock has been cut through to make room for the bridge here for US127, and it’s after passing under this bridge that the takeout spot will be on the left.  There’s a nice rope swing setup just beyond, although it’s almost always in use. 


They were there right on time to pick me up, and I was driven back to my car – the end of a very pleasant trip, and one which I highly recommend!


So...  What did I learn from all this seized and missed opportunity today?  Well, it just served as a reminder as to what I think my life’s focus was meant to be.  I’ve learned time and again that it’s best not to get too attached to anything in this world, because in so doing you’re sure to eventually get a reminder of your folly – and sometimes a very brutal one.


Where do true opportunity and happiness lie?  In material things?  For some, yes, but these just leave you wanting more and more. 


In other people?  For some, yes, but we as people are inherently imperfect. 


In winning and success?  For some, yes, but these things also just leave you wanting more.


The only thing which has consistently brought me happiness and has never let me down is the beauty of life and of creation itself; and I can tell you - without any reservation whatsoever - that these things can be found in full splendor out on the Elkhorn Creek! 




Y’know what?  Since they’ve already done a great job of it, I’m gonna just let you check out the Canoe Kentucky website referenced above for these.  That will eliminate the opportunity (that word again!) for me to mess you up!