The previous three years I had written about...

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my White River trips: 1) from Newlands to the Mississippi River, 2) from the start of the White, down to Newlands, and, 3) from the mouth of the Mississippi River on down to New Orleans.  That made about 1400 miles total.  Then I thought--where do I go next?  The obvious choice was 130 miles of the Buffalo River. While I had done most of the stretches of this beautiful river in different increments at different times, I never made one continuous float.  So, in the spring of 1999, that's what I did.  The Buffalo River (designated in 1972 as a national river) starts close to Boston, Arkansas, southeast of Fayetteville, and flows basically East to the White River (actually the White also starts in about the same place, flows through northwest Arkansas, into Missouri, and back southeast into Arkansas).  I chose my put-in spot to be BOXLEY BRIDGE.   No "outboard motors are allowed in this area, and most people traverse the river in canoes.  But I am stubborn and I want to use one of my "jonboats (that normally have motors).   I built them, spent many hours floating/fishing from them, derive my living from them, and, plus it's my heritage (I learned to run a commissary/supply boat going down this river)...so I figure I'll stick with it.

Well, to say I was apprehensive...

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about "paddling" my loaded jonboat through the restricted motor area would be an understatement. So, off down the river I go--saying over and over to myself, "You can do this...all you need to do is concentrate, and anticipate which direction you will need to go to negotiate the shoals. Things were going well. Then, as I was approaching another shoal area, I could see something unusual. A little closer now and it was a canoe in the middle of the shoal. But it was deformed--the front was touching the back, and the middle was securely held in place by a sturdy tree with water rushing around each side. There were no people around, that I could see (their accident must have occurred a day or two before), so I floated on by wondering to myself...perhaps I'm out of my element...if a highly manouverable canoe sunk on this shoal, what am I doing out here in this jonboat?

In some of the deeper pools...

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I was finally able to relax a little, do some fishing, and enjoy the wonderful scenery. I knew there were some elk (extinct by 1840's...reintroduced in 1980's) along here, but I never did see one. Camping along the river bank was fun. Finally, on down to ERBIE, the end of "no motors" area. It was nice to have my trusty outboard motor...not having to constantly worry about sinking the boat was a nice relief. Through the day I kept noticing black clouds gathering, and I knew there were storm warnings out. So I pick a sheltered place up under a small bluff to camp. Lying on my cot I could see lightening off in the distance, and it was reflecting off the riffling water. It was beautiful. Then the lightening got closer, and thunder came with it. All night long God provided me the best of fireworks displays. Crash!! Boom!!...Crash!! Boom!! Finally by morning I had had the best display of fireworks, but no sleep. I stumble around to get my boat loaded, and down the river I go. Couple hours later, the dark clouds move in again and more fireworks. And hard downpour rain. I'm not too far from Hwy 123 bridge at CARVER, where I know I can get out of the elements. But the lightening, thunder and downpour rain all increase. But I'm determined (or stubborn) to make it to the bridge. It became comical, and spiritual, somehow. It was as if I was looking up into the soul of God, and He had arranged all this for me. Finally, the bridge. But the storm lasted another couple hours.

By this time (and with no sleep the night before)...

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I began to think of a nice bed to sleep in at a motel in Gilbert, on down the river. I stopped at a place called Little Niagra, below WOLLUM, except one has to park the boat along the shore and walk over to it. The river channel has completly changed. In my memory I recalled many frustrating incidents of boats sinking there. Once Boyce Henderson (a guide) sunk, and my dad sunk right on top of him. Another time we sunk two commissary boats within three days there. How the river has changed. How life changes, I guess.   So I race on down and check out a room at GILBERT. And supper at the Riverside Cafe was enjoyable. There was talk of rising waters due to all the rain. Before bed, I went back down and retied my boat, in case the water did come up. Around 3am I awoke, and said to myself, "...you better go check the river, and your boat". I followed my own advice, and not only had the river come up, it had come up A LOT. About 10 feet. With my light I could see my boat way out there. I knew the river was still rising, and I decided to wade out to my boat before it got any higher. At chest high, and strong current, I was wondering if I should go any further. Well, I did...and was just "barely" able to grab the boat. Finally, I secure the boat to the bank, and return for a few more hours rest. Daylight brought to view a raging, muddy river. So on down-river I go, into the torrent of a river.   I remembered when I was a teenager and the river came up like this...we were camped out and daylight brought a raccoon clinging to a floating tree trunk as it swept down the river--the coon looked as puzzled as I did about the change in scenery. On past Hwy 14 BRIDGE and RUSH--all the way to the WHITE RIVER. In five days I had traversed the Buffalo. I had covered not only a very beautiful river, but also many beautiful memories of my life. And I even made some new ones.--Charles Newland

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