Trey Berndt and I canoed the Medina River on Sunday November 12th, from the low water bridge three miles downstream from the town of Medina to the Highway 470 bridge (upstream from Bandera). The length of the trip was 11.5 miles. Trey and I have been paddling tandem for many years, and we decided to team up again for this trip. We were in our 16 foot Mohawk.
We decided to get an early start because it takes just over two hours driving time to get to the Medina. I got up at the indecent hour of five o'clock so that I could pick up Trey at his house at six. As I was making tuna salad sandwiches, the cat was making quite a ruckus. I asked him what it would take to shut him up, so that he wouldn't wake up everyone in the house. It turned out that a little of that tuna would do the trick, thank you very much, and after I gave him some he let me go about my business. After half a pot of coffee and much preparation, I was out the door. We made our customary stop at the Blanco Valley Cafe, in Blanco, to have the usual breakfast tacos. As usual, we were just about the only ones there without a cowboy hat (you guys ain't from around here, are you?), so we got a few inquisitive, although not unfriendly looks.
We knew that Fred Collins most likely would not be available for a shuttle, so we ended up stopping at a local convenience store to ask if they knew of anyone who could help us out. As I came out, Trey was talking with a gentleman in the parking lot. He said "Come here, I want you to meet Ben Nolan." Here we were in Bandera, wandering around looking for a shuttle, and we run into the co-author of Texas Rivers and Rapids when he stops to buy a newspaper! Not only that, but Mr. Nolan offered to take us to the put-in. We put our canoe and all our gear in the back of his pickup. I swear I'm not making this up! We knew that he lives in Bandera, but what are the chances? Later, Trey said that this proves that the universe doesn't operate simply at random. We enjoyed talking with Mr. Nolan, who was interesting and really nice. We asked him if he wanted to paddle with us, but he said that he would wait for a little better weather (it was in the fifties and raining some when we started).
We put in on Chenault Road, which is about 1.5 miles east of Medina, at the low water bridge. The water was about five inches over the bridge (it was flowing at about 800 cfs). If there is any water over the bridge, the river is at optimal level. I remember a time about ten years ago when a couple I know was pushing their canoe over the bridge, which had a few inches of water over it. The wife (Betty) got into the canoe in the bow, while the husband (Jim) pushed from the back, intending to just get in and go on. Can you guess what happened? Well, the current was too strong, and the canoe slipped away. We watched this scene unfold in what seemed like slow motion. Off went the canoe toward a fast and very sharp turn in the river, which is followed by several stumps in the channel. Jim then set a new world record in the long jump - he flew through the air and landed on his chest across the back seat of the canoe, got up, grabbed his paddle, and down the rapid they went. Later, Jim told me that he knew he HAD to make it into that canoe, because "Betty would have killed me!"
Trey, several friends and I have been paddling the Medina for probably 20 years now. Because of its crystal clear water and beautiful cypress covered banks, we think it is the most beautiful stream in Texas. It has a very narrow channel, and many twists and turns. Most rapids have quite a few cypress trees and stumps which make it like a slalom course. At higher water levels, and especially if you are in a tandem canoe, it can be fairly challenging. Many times we have dropped our guard, and the river throws in a twisting turn with several obstructions waiting to trip us up. Two times, I've also seen large trees completely across the river. We sometimes joke that you must always show respect to the river gods (which includes addressing them in a very respectful manner, with such statements as "I acknowledge that we are only humble paddlers who are allowed to pass only by your grace, oh river gods!"). But seriously, if you do not feel comfortable making quick turns, in my opinion you should not attempt the Medina at levels higher than 400 cfs. I have seen many pinned or wrapped canoes on this stretch of river.
After the first Highway 16 crossing, which is at one mile (four miles from the alternate put-in in Medina), the river drops through the best rapid on the river. Scout this one to read the cross currents and plan your line. The river flows quickly through several large cypress trees in the channel, then makes a small drop at the base of a large cypress into a large bubbly pool. At lower water levels, this pool is a great Jacuzzi-and because of this we named it Champagne Pool many years ago.
At two miles, there is a small private low water bridge where you can safely push your boat over at this level. At 3.3 miles, you drop about two feet over an old dam. No big deal here, except a big splash in the lap for your bow person. At 3.7 miles, the road to Camp Bandina crosses. You can go under the bridge at 450 cfs, but at 800 there is not enough clearance. Portage on the right. You cross another low bridge at 7.2 miles that must always be portaged on the right. This is Peaceful Valley Road, which is a good alternate put-in or take-out.
Somewhere in the next mile or two, the river splits at an island. There is a house up the hill on the right bank. A sign on a tree says "The easy way" with an arrow pointing to the right. The river drops over a sloping three foot ledge. The left channel goes over a three foot dam. One time we saw three guys in an aluminum canoe try to go over the right drop at fairly high water. What happened next seems impossible, but I'm here to say we saw it, that's our story, and we're sticking by it. Their canoe nose-dived at the drop and disappeared very deep under a bunch of cypress roots. We could not even see it! I cannot tell you whether that canoe ever came out of the depths again! Luckily, none of the (fool)hearty crew was hurt.
Late in the trip, I told Trey that when we grow old, we will have many great memories of our trips on the Medina and the times we ventured to the Mulberry in Arkansas. And if we make it to our nineties, we might remember that we used to go paddle a canoe somewhere. But I don't think I'll ever forget how big Jim's eyes were when he made that tremendous leap.