AIN’T LOUIE FEST~ A ​first-timers look at what is becoming aSoutheastclassic. by F. Wes Breitenbach (with photos and afterward byJessica Whitehorn of Muskrat Photography)

Check out Our new event page link for ALF 2017!

{Photo of our homie Donnie Woodland Wallacing Baby Falls, by Muskrat Photography}

​One of the lessons you learn in life, at an early age if you’re lucky, is that sacrifice is a part of the game. But as you mature you learn to balance compromise into the equation. You learn that sometimes you can’t get everything you want but can get a little of what you want and still pay the bills. That’s how many of my adventures go and an ALF weekend was no exception.
Well, my year so far has been rather topsy turvy and things have been challenging. I am not complaining, rather, I am explaining. With all the events happening in the Southeast this spring I wanted to make sure someone saw us at each one. Make at least one solid connection with someone and it’s like tossing a stone in the water. In my efforts to balance covering events and covering my mortgage some events will be missed. Some will have a day and some a weekend.
ALF was close and completely doable. I was only able to witness one day of the event even though I was at the Tellico for two. The Ain’t Louie Fest, or A.L.F., is a weeklong tour of the southeast, hitting any and all spots with enough water to accommodate. The highlight of the event is the Only Upper Tellico race, or O.U.T.  This I did not know. I like to take a natural approach to things and this time was no different.
I found myself, late as usual, heading to the Tellico on Saturday morning. I wanted to get up there early to watch as people filled the small parking lots and little pull offs in the area. It was a classic Smoky Mountain morning with fog filling every dip and low spot with dense white vapor. Passing the ranger station sign and a common take out I noticed the lack of cars. The farther I went the more surprised I became with the lack of activity. At the parking lot for Baby Falls many spots in the cramped lot where open. I pulled in and walked around. The few people that I spoke with had no idea about ALF. So I headed up to the next parking spot only to find it full of cars. By this I mean 10. But that fills this little lot so, up to the last put in opportunity at the picnic area. Above this spot, the river is left to the fisherman and their fun. This lot had plenty of open spots. I slid into one near the path to the river. I talked with a few kayakers but no canoes. I wanted to paddle down with a group of canoes to see what it’s all about. I don’t know anyone who paddles canoes and I have never tried it, other than big flat water camping boats. I knew that this would be both the time and the place.  I got ready and waited for my new friends………………………………………
At least an hour went by before two trucks came tumbling into the dirt lot blaring rock & roll. I didn’t care what they were paddling, I’m hopping on with these guys! It was a group of guys that had been paddling together for a while and I asked if I could tag along, and with a welcoming “hell yeah“! I was set. I am bad when it comes to names but what I can tell you is that they play in a band called River Funk. Well, a few of the guys did. They invited me to the show they had later that night in town and I agreed to go. Just a few hours in and the plan was falling into place. Of the few things I know, good things happen when you get in with the band.
I offered to help set up shuttle but they had already done so. I asked how far they are running. They replied with “the whole way”. I couldn’t believe my luck. I have yet to get anyone to run the length from ledges to the rangers’ station with me and serendipitously it comes to me! I won’t paddle WW alone. Some do it and that is their decision.
It was amazing of course, but at the same time it was confirmed to me that we are a family. The water brings us together and we care for each other when on the water. Even the friends we haven’t met yet, or as some folks call ‘em, strangers. Paddling with these guys was no different than any other day with my close friends. A few Wallacings and few solid moves, impressing myself even, we had completed the run and headed to town for food, beer and whatever else happened.
(insert sound of needle dragging across record.) google it young ones.
My wallet was, in my pants, no. Glove box, no. That’s right, under my seat, no. Then it came to me. The picture of my green jacket sitting on the table as I was about to leave. There it must still be. See for most places you would be fine, but in the state of Tennessee you must, no matter age, present I.D. for any alcohol purchases. Liquor store or restaurant everyone gets carded. I would not be able to drink, or buy food, or anything. With my tail low I went back home. I will rest up for tomorrow and some big action. The word on the street was the ALF OUT race would be on Sunday, the One, if not the among best races in all of open boating. 100 plus canoes and a few kayaks tumble down ledges in a way best described as dumping a bag of skittles into the river. Well, I should be rested, ready and maybe early if I am lucky.
In the morning I headed up to the Tellico.  I really enjoy being 1h 45m from the put in! Again it was foggy and the air crisp, another perfect Smoky mountain morning. The parking lot was holding just 2 vehicles upon my arrival. I was pleased by this because I enjoy watching things develop and with that the cars, trucks, vans and trailers began to appear. I started to chat up some folks and I met a fella from Great Britain that has come for to ALF for the past several years. Brings his own boat too! People from Jersey, Minnesota, Ohio, and right here in Tennessee to name a few.
The term loosely organized is one way of describing the event. The folks that decide to hold the event are interested in boating, not festival organization. I don’t believe you could have an event this large without social media. You have to be in the know to find out the goings on and since this dirt bag likes to take an organic approach to things, I may have missed a few good moments but I didn’t miss the big action.
As the people crammed the starting put in, spectators of all kinds lined the narrow road that parallels the river. I was able to find my way down the steep bank and out onto a rock right in the flow that every boat would have to pass.
The boats began to come around the bend. The sun was behind them so the glare from the water and their helmets was all that I could see for a moment. Then the falls became alive with boaters, dropping one after the other, some on top of another. The volunteer traffic directors located above and below the falls tried to guide boaters away from danger best they could and the safety boaters helped clean up the rest. It was the most paddlers I have ever witnessed at one time on any water and this was the ledges section of the Tellico! I saw every one of them drop, tumble, boof and bumble their way through the beginning of the race.  I was amazed that when the last boat slipped by no one that I saw had been injured or hurt in any way other than a few bumps and bruises. The support between fellow boaters is one of the things that I love about the sport.
I quickly hurried up the steep bank and began my short run back to the lot at Baby Falls. As it became longer than I remembered, I started to slow my pace and question why I hadn’t brought my bike along. Just then someone passes on my left. Their pace is moderate and I think I can keep up. I step back into the mode, just a bit longer. See, I am not a runner. Running is something reserved for emergency. We have so many better ways to move around than running. I do however have a great respect for runners. It is no easy thing to finish 26.2 miles. I notice my leader begin to slow. I shout out to her, to keep going! “You’re almost to the parking lot! You can do it! You are setting my pace, I need you to finish!”  She looked back with a grin and dropped back into her zone. We finished into the parking lot and fell quickly to a walking pace. I told her that she had passed me just as I began to slow. I reminded her that you never know who around you is being inspired by what you’re doing.
I took my spot in the crowd by Baby Falls. One after the other the boats plunged the 14 ft drop. The height will be argued. Some will say 12 or 11, I have even heard 15. I am in the 14 ft camp. After seeing many boats go through and dropping it myself many times, 14 seems right.
The spectators and boaters alike got their fair share of sweet moves and total carnage at both the beginning and end of the race.
I ran the falls a few times and watched as the groups of boaters began loading up and heading to the next run, town for food or home. It was well worth the trip and next year I hope to do the run in a canoe if I can. If you plan on attending next year or any time here are a few tips to help you plan.
1) “like” the  Ain’t Louie Fest 2016 Facebook page. This is the best place to watch for information on the event. Also get on their email list.
2) The town of Tellico village is the closest anything but not everything.
3) You can camp at many places in and around the area. Tellico River Corridor contains several small campgrounds.
Hotels are also in the town but I don’t really know how those things work so you’re on your on with that one.
4) Flow can be checked on the AW site
5) Cell service is limited and cannot be relied on so make sure you have a plan well before getting to the put in.
6) When parking along the road only do so in designated spots. DO NOT have ANY part of your tire on the paved surface of the road. They fine $75 dollars for this offense. Full disclosure, I talked my way out of a ticket for just this infraction and pledged that I would pass this info on to fellow boaters. My obligation now met.
Some photos from the festivities: 1) 16 year old boater 2) baby falls set up 3) baby falls drop. this is a good example of the height. 10 ft boat in the middle of what looks to me to be solid 14 ft. 4) boats in every nook and cranny 5) Canadian representation.
These two dirtbags are Nick from the Tellico area and Dave from Nottinghamshire, UK, who actually flew out with his boat for the week!
{Editor: Wes is a DBP Admin, paddler, and talented amateur photographer who lives in TN. The photos preceding this note were shot by him. All boaters captured by Wes were unknown, and the one surfing the purple blackfly is 16 year old! He’s as nice as pie, and just as fruity. One of the nicest dirtbags you’ll meet, go ahead and shake his hand. You won’t regret it!
And here’s a quick afterward by Jessica Whitehorn, pro photographer, who took the awesome photos of the OUT Race that follow. Much thanks for their use, as it’s almost impossible to imagine what this procession of madness is like without photos.}
My name is Jessica Whitehorn, aka Muskrat Photography. This was my second year shooting Ain’t Louie Fest at Baby Falls on the Tellico River. I was introduced to the fest by Tom Tohill about 3 years back. When I first experienced the ALF, I didn’t know what to expect. The only thing I knew was that there would be canoes going over Baby Falls. At first I wasn’t sure if I had heard them right (did they say canoes?Going over Baby Falls?? “Yep”,  Canoes, not Kayaks, although you do see a few kayaks go over) since canoes usually do not go over falls. While shooting the event, I noticed the family like atmosphere.  Also, the encouragement you guys give each other is inspiring, and yes the commentary and light ribbing you guys give each other cracks me up. Your event is a blast to shoot and watch. Between the carnage, crazy outfits, and even the barrel that one of you went over in one year, it never makes for a dull moment, and I can’t wait to come next year and watch/shoot the fun.
Jessica’s website
Muskrat Photography on Facebook

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