Turtles, Herons, and Toxic Waste

Finally, Pat and I ride the entire Riverwalk.  I’d only made it halfway on previous rides and Pat had never made it past looking for the Riverwalk before.  Now, we take it all the way to the Chickamauga dam.

Not too far from the wetland beside the trail, a giant snapping turtle crosses the path.  We stop to take pictures, although I only have my iPhone with me for a camera.  Having heard many stories of snapping turtles removing fingers, we keep a safe distance.  The turtle tucks back into its shell when we get close.  We assume it’s female, heading for a secluded spot to lay eggs.  It’s tail is so long, it doesn’t even begin to go into the shell when the turtle tucks its head.

We find ourselves slightly confused by some of the signs–as stretch of the Riverwalk is gated with signs saying that it closes at dusk.  We make a mental note to make sure we return well before sunset so we don’t get blocked off the trail.

When we arrive at the dam, we stop for a while.  Huge signs warn of the dangerous waters around the dam that swirl threateningly–the signs imperatively state that life jackets are required near the dam.  Several small fishing boats are tucked around the corner from the most treacherous part, men standing defiantly with no life jackets, fishing for whatever is jumping there.  They compete with the largest grouping of Great Blue Herons I’ve ever seen–we count 17 standing just on the rocks below us, watching the water intensely and periodically snapping into action, snagging a fish.  Then, Pat spots a small sign on the shore with a warning about not consuming more than 1 catfish a month from the river due to the high content of cancer-causing pollutants in the fish.  I feel bad for the herons.  I am reminded that Chattanooga started cleaning up their waterfront 20 years ago, but undoing decades of industrial dumping doesn’t happen overnight.  I laugh to myself because I originally thought the name of the dam was “Chick-a-muck”–maybe that is a more appropriate name after all?

A man sits in a gazebo on the shore reading a book, but most of the people who have driven to this spot sit in their cars with the motors running, the windows up, and the AC on.  Interesting way to experience the outdoors, but with the temperature close to 100, I’m sure they are far more comfortable than we are, standing in the heat, sweating from our exertion.  We don’t stand there long–being in motion gives us more breeze and makes us feel cooler.

We head back down the Riverwalk towards home.  Approaching a curve behind a shrub, a woman comes walking towards us with her husband.  She talks to him intensely, not seeing us until she finds herself standing in our path, startled by our sudden appearance,  her mouth opens in a big round “O” and her entire body registers surprise.  I laugh out loud at the expression on her face.  She,laughs too and quickly moves out of our way.  We have found one pedestrian who thinks it’s better to stay right!

Passing a restaurant along the river futher down,  large groups of people walk out to the Riverwalk to watch the sunset from the vantage point of a pedestrian overlook across from the restaurant.  A family with 3 children stands on the path, watching cautiously for bikes.  When the youngest child sees us (she is about 9), she screams “BIKES!” spreading her arms wide in a protective gesture, and the family moves quickly to the side so we can pass.  While I am startled by the sudden scream and wonder at it given that we’re barely pedaling and even the snapping turtle would have ample time to get out of our way, I appreciate that there are people who are willing to share the walkway.

When we return to the start of the Walnut St bridge, we spot a street cart with shaved ice.  Sweating and stinky, it seems the perfect day to try it for the first time.  We each get a heap of shaved ice in a cup, covered with sticky sweet lemon syrup.  The ice refreshes us, melting quickly in our mouths, chilling me in the heat.  We sit on the bridge and enjoy our ice before heading home.  Pat makes a joke and I laugh, which makes Pat laugh harder, saying, “Wow, even your gums are yellow!”  So much for my whitening toothpaste!  I close my bright yellow mouth and we finish our ride, coasting slowly down the bridge, dodging groups of tourists and hoping my lemon-colored teeth don’t catch their attention.

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