08:12:11, Alabama, 32° 19.554’N, 87° 0.907’W – The next time you’re in Selma, block out a full day to kayak the Alabama River from Six Mile Creek to the historic Edmund Pettus bridge. You’ll paddle about 22 miles (there and back) to complete the journey.
When you first look at the river your jaw will drop. It’s big and it’ll make you feel real small. You can see down it for miles. A point on the horizon will take longer to reach than you think. When the river does turn, the curves are so long it feels like you’ll never round the bend. Trail along the bank to gain a sense that you’re actually moving so you don’t loose your sanity.
If you prefer paddling against the current (like me) then you’re going to absolutely love this run. Push off from the landing at Six Mile Creek to begin an 11 mile reverse paddle. There’s no white water or shoals to fight. Just a big beautiful deep water river slicing through a thick semi-tropical wilderness. Rain water drips off cliffs of stone shaped by the current over eons of time forming small cave pockets and overhangs.
After the first 4 miles in nature’s solitude, you’ll enter a 3.7 mile turn with houses peppering the left bank. Don’t worry, the right bank is still a jungle so hang close over there to keep your vibe going. The river is so wide you won’t care about anybody on the other side. When you finally make it around this big bend you’ll be rewarded with your first glimpse of the Edmund Pettus bridge on the distant horizon. Built in 1940, it’s named for Edmund Winston Pettus, a former Confederate brigadier general and U.S. Senator from Alabama. The bridge is the historical site of the conflict of Bloody Sunday on March 7, 1965, when armed officers attacked peaceful civil rights demonstrators attempting to march to the state capital of Montgomery.
The bridge is an incredible feat of structural design with art deco influences that can be seen from underneath. Paddle under the massive bridge pylons. It’s pretty humbling. Tie up the kayak to the right bank and take the rest of the tour on foot. You can walk beneath the bridge for a good ways until it connects to the highway. As you gaze down the middle the perspective is stunning. You get the feeling you’re in a grand cathedral.
You could easily spend the rest of the day here but remember there’s 11 miles left to paddle to get back to Six Mile Creek. To relive any anixeity that you might not make it there before sunset pack a flash light and don’t worry about it. The current will carry you back to the landing but you’ll still have to paddle to make decent time.
Resist the urge to get back too soon because you don’t want to miss the chance to float the Alabama River as she flatlines into twilight. This big river will calm down and become a sheet of liquid glass reflecting the full color spectrum of the setting sun.
– Steve Tanner