Sweep the Hooch
A few years ago, I ran into Jason who had just finished doing some type of river clean-up event. If memory serves, we were just idly chatting at the bar and I said "that sounds cool, remind me about it next year" and lo and behold, he did and that was the first time we ever hung out one-on-one. Sweep The Hooch is an annual event put on by the Chattahoochee River Keeper, in which hundreds of volunteers walk and paddle around the Chattahoochee River and clean up several tons of trash that have accumulated over the months.
Jason has done it for a few years before we did it together, but 2013 was the first time I had participated so I was really surprised by how much nasty stuff came out of the river. I picked him up at his house and we stopped by his friend Scott's house early in the morning to mount the boats on the cars and off to Vinings we went.
I think when everything was said and done, I had filled three bags to the brim with mostly sports balls (deflated soccer balls, tennis balls, golf balls, basketballs, etc.) broken glass, beer cans, plastic bottles, dirty underwear (ew) and liquor bottles. Side note: yes, I wore industrial rubber gloves. I also almost fell over a dead, bloated beaver after tripping over it, I sunk deeeeeep into the mud in one spot, and when I got home, I had to bleach the shower after first hosing myself off outside because so much horrible smelling mud had come off of my clothes and body.
After we wrapped up on the official clean-up around noon or 1:00 pm, Scott, Jason and I got some burritos and restocked our beer and spend the rest of the afternoon leisurely floating down the river from Roswell and getting some pretty enviable sunburns.
Then, the following year in 2014, we went again but brought some friends. I borrowed Scott's kayak again, my co-worker at the time, Sara, did it with two of her friends and Jason's friend Robin joined him in his canoe.
I should note that we're all experienced paddlers which is one of the reasons we signed up in the first place and also volunteered to do this segment of the river that has more "white water" (haha, as if) than other segments. And being a former volunteer coordinator, I totally understand the importance of safety and liability. However, we got scolded like children for not keeping up with the faster-moving people on the trip who weren't picking up as much trash and instead just floating down the river. I was more interested in taking my time and filling up my trash bags, so it sort of soured the experience.
It just felt like we were doing this "river clean up" on paper but not really taking the time to do it autonomously and get all of the crap we could. That's why we're not participating again this year as part of the official group, but we'll probably still do our due diligence as responsible people and pick up gunk when we see it.
One of my favorite things in life is kayaking down a river. Which is funny because I'm instinctually TERRIFIED of water. I won't go into the ocean. I'm anxious about pools. I went whitewater rafting with some friends for a bachelorette party a few years ago and I almost had a panic attack but held myself together right up to the point when we got into the water. And then I had a blast and wanted to do it again. Whenever I'm on a boat, I have total tunnel vision until I can relax for a minute and then realize I love being on the water. But as soon as I hit that tipping point, it's total bliss. There are few things as wonderful than being surrounded by trees, watching yourself glide over underwater grasses and rocks, watching fish swim around the bow of the boat, observing herons gliding along the shore, catching a turtle slipping into the river after sunning itself on a rock.
And the Chattahoochee is an especially fantastic experience because it's this serene, delicate natural resource directly in Atlanta, just miles from downtown but completely outside of all of the traffic and sirens and break-ins and grocery store queues and commerce.
So although I might be too much of a curmudgeon to participate in the official clean-up again, I'd recommend it for anyone who wants to be a part of observing just how insensitive people are to the environment, or maybe folks who just want to experience a part of the city they've never thought much about. I promise that driving over the bridge on 75N right before 285 will never be the same again. Ever since the clean-up, there hasn't been a day where I look to the right to Whitewater Creek trailhead and wish that instead of going to the office, I could sit and watch the early-moning mist creep up from the water over the highway.