JOHN & PAT'S CANOE TRIP
DOWN THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER
(June 2, 2003 - August 11, 2003)
Monday, June 2, 2003
River mile start-814, ending 785.2. Odometer 29.2, moving time 6hr 40 min, stopped time -1 hr 56 min, max speed 6.5, overall average 3.4. Whenever I looked to see how fast we were paddling, it showed between 4.6 and 5.2 mph. We obviously had a current with us and a wind against us. We started out the day with no wind (at 6:20 AM) and after about 8 as the sun got up it slowly became windy. The weather radio tried to tell us it was 5 - 10 out of the SE, but at times it was way over that. It was gusty at times and as we got to Lake Pepin, I thought we were in the Boundary Waters. - windy!!!
So to start off our trip, Leslie, John and I left the house shortly after 5AM, drove down to Hastings and put in just past (south of) Lock #2. I had been looking all over for barges and couldn't find any anywhere and as we were on the shore, just getting everything ready to load up, I happened to look up and there in front of my eyes was a huge barge, almost on top of us. It had the limit of 15 barges, so was pretty big, but also pretty quiet. Neither of us heard it come up and the wake it gave off was less than most of the motorboats that go tearing around us.
We got to see where the St Croix River flows into the Miss. It was neat, but no big waves or anything like that. The scenery today was fantastic. Mostly the shoreline is all tree lined, we saw and stopped at a few beaches for snacks and lunch, and we paddled through Red Wing which was very pretty. We've seen beautiful homes on the tops of the hills overlooking the river and we've encountered mosquitoes. Since it's windy, they're not around right on shore, but about 10 feet back they're alive and well.
We saw some bald eagles today and some looked like they were young ones. We saw lots of turkey vultures, lots of herons, a deer and many deer tracks and evidence of beaver activity.
We also encountered a 9 barge tow as we were paddling. It was not a problem. We also saw about half a dozen run abouts (zoomy type boats) and half a dozen fishing type boats.
We went through lock #3 and we were the only canoe (only people) in the lock. It only went down about one foot
After we got through Red Wing, there was a tow boat ahead of us and he went down the channel, so we went on the other side of the island, thinking we would avoid him. As we were paddling along on that side of the island we noticed that there were all kinds of barges parked there, and as we got to the end, there was that tow coming up our way. He only had one barge and he was going to park it over where the other tows were.
No rain today, not much sun, kind of cool. All in all it was a good day. By the time we stopped today, about 3 PM we were both beat.
Our campsite is very nice. We went around the back of some islands because from viewing the map, it looked like there would be great spots. But the river is so high, that they were all flooded. We therefore had to come back into the main channel and backtrack. Luckily that 5 - 10 mile an hour wind just pushed us the whole way and we got some really neat rides on the waves. And John spotted this site from way across the river. It's wonderful.
Tuesday, June 3, 2003
River mile start 785.2, ending 764.6 Odometer. 19.8, moving time 5hr 11 min, stopped time 1 hr 28 min, max speed 4.9, elevation 671, average 3mph.
If yesterday was a wonderful day, today wasn't. We crossed Lake Pepin; it took us the whole day although we stopped about 2 PM and started this morning about 7:30. It was calm again when we started and then the wind slowly picked up. And we were even lucky in that the wind was behind us. But it is such a huge lake and there was no current (we've both come to love that current) and when you get out in the middle of the lake, the waves come in every which direction, plus the wakes from the boats. All in all it was a boring day. It seemed like we paddled forever and got nowhere.
We are stopped on this piece of land with a nice beach, but unfortunately there are many mosquitoes. We are right at the very end of Lake Pepin and tomorrow we'll be paddling past where the Chippewa River merges into the Mississippi and then onward to Lock #4.
Last night around 1 AM I noticed this incredibly bright light shining in our tent. Since we were out in the middle of nowhere, it seemed odd that that would be happening. It turned out to be a towboat pushing either 9 or more barges. And in the middle of the night it seemed much louder than we had noticed yesterday. The other noisy thing in our camp was this psycho woodpecker. He never shut up.
I also must mention that as we were packing up and getting ready to leave, I looked up and there right in front of us was a 9 or 12 barge tow. They seem to like to sneak up on us when it's time to leave.
We saw some more bald eagles today, a mama eagle and some younger ones that didn't have their full coloring yet. John also spotted a raccoon and we saw lots of herons. We also saw lots of jumping fish.
We stopped at Old Frontenac city pier and talked to 2 fishermen from Bloomington. They said the walleyes are wonderful in Lake Pepin.
The day was warmer today since the sun actually came out. With any luck we should get one more day without rain.
Wednesday June 4, 2003
River mile start 764.4, ending mile 735.5 camping between island 55 and 57 on the MN side. The Odometer reads 28.6, moving time 6 hr 11 min, stopped 53 min 47 sec, max speed 6.5, elevation 634 ft, overall average 4mph.
It was a nice day today. Yesterday the mosquitoes were unbelievably horrible. They were swarming. Today there aren't any - yet.
We went through lock 4 and lock 5 today. The part that gets kind of tricky is when you leave the lock. Because of the water running out of the dam, the water is just turbulent everywhere with waves going in every which direction, bouncing off the stone walls and then coming back. It's very exciting. When we were just like a quarter mile or less to the lock, John radioed the Lockmaster and both times they started filling the lock for us so that when we got there we could just go right in. It was great!!
We saw 2 working dredging operations today. And we saw one traveling dredging barge heading over to help the first one. The Lockmaster said that they rented that crane from New Orleans and when it gets off the platform it is also a pontoon - so it is called a floating crane. He said it cost some huge amount of money.
We were taking some scenic shortcuts today which was pretty fun. And the one time, we missed going by 2 barges and they were traveling right behind each other so that would have really been a ride. We did go by a barge today and that turned out to be fairly exciting too. It was throwing up a huge wake and I looked over and said to John -"it looks like all the wake is going over to the other side of the island", that was just as we started to get the first easy part of the waves. They got bigger and higher and bouncing all over. It was kind of fun.
We also went over one little area today where I swear we actually went into a hole in the river. Maybe only for a distance of twenty feet, but we actually dropped down a foot or so. No rapids or white water, but you could actually feel yourself and the canoe sink. I had read about that in one of the books I read and thought it very strange. And when it happened it was very strange.
We went by Wabasha today, Alma, Miniestra - which was a beautiful town set against a high hill. It was just very pretty. We generally do not stop at any of these places unless we need supplies but tomorrow we should go by Winona and I think we'll stop for water. We have 4 two and a half gallon containers, plus we each have a camel back that holds almost one gallon of water. By the end of tonight, we should be down to 2 full large containers which basically means (I think) that we go through about 1 gal per person a day. We need to know exactly what we'll need when we get south of St. Louis where there are very few towns for us to get re-supplied.
The river keeps changing; it continued to be very wide today, but there was very little wind. As we approached Lock 5 today, about a mile and a half prior to reaching it, it went from totally calm to totally windy. Choppy waves everywhere, but no whitecaps. When we got past the lock, the wind was gone again.
We are starting to see a lot of sand dunes. Very high ones even. I am quite surprised. Still green trees everywhere, lots of eagles and herons and jumping fish. Early on today, we saw the confluence of the Chippewa River come into Miss. If it hadn't been marked on the map, we would have missed it. The Zumbro River also flowed into the Miss. Today and we did miss that.
Tonight we had an exciting evening. We had our lawn chairs out on the beach and were sitting and watching the swallows zooming all over the place. When they would fly by your head you could hear their wings flap and actually feel the vibration. We were also watching 2 bald eagles that were flying around one island down from us. Then right in front of us was a turtle that must have been trying to swim upstream. You would see him put his head up, look around, and then go back under the water. After about 5 min or so, we would have advanced only a small way, but he would put his head up, look around, go back down and start swimming again. He did that the whole time we were sitting there. There must have been a big fish chasing the minnows because every once in a while the little minnows would jump right out of the water onto the beach. We had a fun filled night (we are easily amused!!).
Thursday, June 5, 2003
River mile start 735.5, ending 713.5, odometer 20.7, moving time 4hr 23 min, stopped 1 hr 59 min, max speed 7mph, elevation 631, overall average 3.2mph.
We had a short day today. We went through 2 locks. The first one John called ahead and the doors were already because they were inside repairing it. We got to go in right away. The 2nd one John called ahead because we could see that there was a towboat in there and the Lockmaster said it would be about 15 min. We got in ok but when it was time for us to leave (as usual, we were the only people in the lock) the lockmaster said that we should probably wait because the tow coming up steam was having some kind of a problem lining up outside the lock and we didn't want to be out there when he was revving up his engine trying to maneuver. So we just sat in the lock for a couple of minutes and then the Lockmaster told us to go around behind the tow, which meant that we would be going right by the outflow of the dam - which we usually try to avoid. The dam flow wasn't that bad however and we got behind the tow and actually paddled with him alongside us for a while (except we were way over on the MN shore and he was in the channel. We stopped at this really nice island for a potty break and it started to look like it was going to rain, so we stayed here and put up the tent before it rained. It didn't rain. It is suppose to rain tomorrow.
We saw so many turtles today because we were taking shortcuts past these islands and this one place there were logs with at least a dozen turtles sunning themselves. They would all jump off when they saw us coming. It was so funny because then you would see 12 little turtle heads sticking up out of the water to see what we were doing. It was hilarious.
We saw a HUGE dredging platform. Actually from where it first came into sight, it looked like a gambling casino. But as we got closer we saw it was a floating barge dredging the channel.
We saw tons of herons today. We went by Winona today and stopped at one of their landings for a little break. We also stopped at what was called a KOA park and campground. But it was a private campground with a pier so we just stopped and got some water. Visitors were suppose to pay a $3 fee so we just got water and then paddled across the river to a neat sandy island and had lunch there.
So far our site tonight doesn't appear to have very many mosquitoes.
Friday, June 6, 2003,
River mile start 713.5, ending 686.5. Odometer 25.8, moving time 5 hr 33 min, stopped 3 hr 36 min, max speed 7, elevation -721, average speed 2.8.
What a day! They were predicting rain and unfortunately they were right. John got up an hour earlier today to get things packed up early and it's a good thing because about 3 min after we started, it began to rain and continued to do so on and off till about 5 PM. Right now it's about 7PM.
It wasn't a bone-chilling cold rain, temp being around 60, but it was windy on and off and so I had on 5 layers and got cold every now and then. When we stopped to go through Lock 7, the pull cord didn't work. I tried it once and John tried it twice. John didn't have the radio out because it is not waterproof. However he got it out and the Lockmaster responded immediately and let us in. By now it was raining cats and dogs and we were just sitting there waiting, waiting, waiting.
Got through there and we stopped at a Dresbach park, a municipal park that had a port a potty!!! And we got some brown ugly water from them, that we're thinking about throwing out. We moved onward to Lacrosse which was kind of neat, although most of the town does not reside on the river front. John asked a nice little old lady where a grocery store was and got excellent directions and we docked at a brand new city pier that the guy said they put in yesterday. I watched the canoe while John went shopping. While I was just watching nothing much happening on the river except a tow boat without a barge went charging by, so I ran down to the canoe to wait for the oncoming waves and it was terrible. The canoe was just thrown about (it was tied up in front and in back) The pier for that matter was also thrown about. I almost got thrown off of the pier trying to keep the boat from banging against the pier. It's a miracle it never took on water. Plus with John's excellent packing, nothing fell off. After that ordeal I looked up and here come 2 really big pleasure boats (the ones that have horrendous wakes) and they are both in a row. This time I decide to use my feet to keep the canoe settled down as I almost broke my hand after the last escapade. Again the waves were terrible. After that, 2 more big boats went by only not so close together. Finally John came.
We left LaCrosse and encountered one or two tow boats. But we also had to go by all the barges that they have sitting on the side of the river. They weren't moving, but they are so huge.
The rest of the day got rainier and windier. We listened to the weather radio and they said the rain should stop at 2 (HAH) and the wind was 10mph (double HAH). Typical Boundary Waters big lake in the midst of waves and ferocious winds. It was really tough, tiring, but we made it ok. As I write this I look down on the water and there are only little teeny waves, no whitecaps; anybody could be out there.
We did see 2 snakes today. The one I saw was in the water and about 2 and 1/2 ft. Long. Then John saw one on the beach at that nice little park that was about 18 in. Long.
To get to our island tonight, called Turtle Island, we had to fight waves and wind and then we wound up in some shallow stuff as we were staying out of the channel. And this shallow water had tons of weeds in it. It is a real challenge to get through it, plus there were so many carp that we were literally running over them. I nearly jumped out of the canoe a couple of times because they would jump away as we hit them or came close to them. Then when we finally got over to our island, we walked up the little sand dune and there was a turtle waiting for us. She had dug a hole and was going to lay her eggs. We just walked away from her and when we came back she was gone. As we walked around the island there were many areas where you could see open turtle shells.
John built a very nice lean-to over the tent so if it rains again tonight we won't get wet when we get up.
Saturday, June 7, 2003
River start mile 686.5, ended mile 666. Odometer 20, paddling time 4hr 20 min, stopped time 1 hr 33 min, Total odometer 143.89, max speed 6.9, elevation 599, average speed 3.7 mph.
We got up and as were packing up, we looked up and saw a 15 barge tow that was going the same way we were. Not good. Actually we paddled along side of it (at a safe distance) and it was a terrific wind block. But the long and the short of it is that it beat us to the lock. And there was another tow going up the river so that by the time all of the tows were through, we had waited 2 and 3/4 hours. We did get to sit inside the very quiet little bay right next to the lock and ate lunch and rested in the very warm sun.
Since this was a Saturday, there were a million boaters out. It was very annoying trying to paddle with all the wakes from all of those boats. Most people steer clear of us, especially since we avoid the channel when there is so much traffic, but once in a while we run into an idiot who likes to run circles around us.
We were running low on water and stopped at Victory Iowa and John found a restaurant that wasn't open. But he walked up there and the guy let him in and we got 2 containers of water. The guy just happened to have recently bought that restaurant and he was in the process of getting ready to open it in about a week.
Last Thursday afternoon while we were in our campsite, there had to have been about 40 pleasure craft that went zooming by our campsite. We were about a mile down stream from the lock so it was quite apparent that they had all just come through the lock together. The wake they threw up on our shoreline was amazing.
Sunday, June 8, 2003
River starting mileage 666, ending mile 637. Odometer 27.6, moving time 5hr 56 min, stopped time 1 hr 30 min, total odometer (which I have not been recording but shall from now on) 171.52, max speed 6.7, elevation 609, average 3.7mph.
In case anyone figures out the miles listed per our GPS and then looks at them from the river mile markers, the difference is because anytime it looks like there is a shortcut, we take it. Today we had to go across a really big expanse of water and so took a shortcut through an area marked with hashed lines on the map which means you are not suppose to travel there. But with a canoe you can do these fun things and we didn't have a problem, except we wound up going through a lot of seaweed which just makes it very hard going but it was a shortcut that took us to Lock 9 and it only took us about 20 minutes to go through. It had been raining on and off all day and as we were locking through it was raining like crazy. I am so glad that it is about 60 degrees out because otherwise I would be freezing to death. As it is I have on 3 shirts (2 with long sleeves), 1 life jacket and my rain jacket and I'm mostly just comfortable.
Yesterday I wrote about how those 40 boaters that had gone through the lock a while back and they all went tearing by us while we were in our campsite. Well at about 6 AM they came by again, obviously going back home. Since it was raining at the time, and had rained most of the night, we were deciding if we should get up yet or not and we heard one boat go zooming by, then another and another and it's like they never quit. I guess their weekend was over. I was very glad that we hadn't met them on the water as we would have had a very bad time.
We had a pretty good mileage day today and once we got through the lock and away from that huge expanse of water, the going was good. We had very little wind and the river is still tree lined and beautiful. We seem to be seeing more of a rocky shore on the Iowa side, but there are still some sand bars (and mud bars) on the Wisconsin side.
We are out of cell coverage so we stopped at a marina today in Lansing Iowa and John used their phone. Then we stopped again later in the afternoon, at a campground just to use their phone. John has to deal with realtors etc trying to resolve issues with his Mom's estate. We stopped at a boat ramp that had a picnic table and a port a potty. It was our lucky day.
Monday, June 9, 2003
River starting mile 637, ending 602. A world's record day of paddling. And before I start I have to write that as we are sitting here in our lawn chairs on the beach that a water snake just swished on by in front of us in the water. John also saw one last night, later in the evening in the water. Tonight he took about 4 pictures of it.
Odometer 32.7, moving time -6hr 21 min, stopped time 1 hr. 53 min, total odometer 204.37, max speed 6.9, elevation 598, average 4mph.
What a beautiful day today. The sun was shining, the sky was blue, there was a wind at our back and a current underneath the canoe. Whereas we usually zip by all of these cities, today we stopped at 3. First one was MacGregor, Iowa. A very beautiful city. We stopped there to use the phone (no cell coverage) and to mail some letters. Then we passed by some Iowa city that had all kinds of barges parked on the river and some tows parking them and getting them ready. We proceeded to Lock 10 and rang the cord and the Lockmaster said it would be a minute. But in one minute he opened the gates - the lock was all ready to go. He asked where the barge was; if we had seen a barge coming - that's why the lock was already - it was for the barge, not for us. And as I write this, that barge finally caught up to us - it's the Stephen L Colby and it's a 12 barge tow.
Right after the lock we stopped at another beautiful Iowa city of Guttenburg. Had to use the phone again. I guess Iowa isn't into cell phones yet. The last place we stopped at was Cassville, WI, another very pretty river town. They had a city park that we stopped and docked at and we went to a restaurant to eat. A fabulous hamburger and fries. And the lady told us about the grocery store so we went and did a little shopping.
We are now on some island on the Iowa side at mile 602. We have to batten down the hatches tonight because they have been warning about a bad storm now for 3 days with strong winds, possible hail and an inch of rain. Doesn't seem possible tonight - it's just lovely out. However the mosquitoes are getting bad. Got to go.
I should mention that we did see a lot of barge traffic today. All going up stream. The wake wasn't too bad, but they rile up the river for almost half a mile. I should add that there can be a problem with those tows if they have to turn and we get directly behind them. The tows in this part of the river have 2 big engines and when they have to make sharp turns I think one of the engines goes into reverse and the other one forward. John says they are using their "maneuvering thrusters" (Star Trek reference). That can cause quite a wake.
Tuesday, June 10, 2003
River mile starting 602, ending 577. Odometer 27.3, moving time 6hr, stopped 2 hr, total odometer 231.63, max speed 6.5, elevation 625, average 3.4 mph
We had an exciting day. We passed quite a few barges and the total barges that one tow can push is supposed to be 15 and we saw one that had 16. The 16th one was hooked onto the tow from the side and so that way it would appear that he would be able to lock it through without a problem.
We stopped at 2 Iowa county parks today that had camping. The first was Finley's Landing. To get there you had to go through this backwater and under a low railroad bridge but it turned out to be such a nice area. We got water there. Then we stopped at Mud Lake which wasn't as nice as the other place but John walked over to the Marina and used their phone. Then this teenager came up and was just talking to us about Dubuque stuff. He was familiar with the river and was interesting to talk to.
As we moved onward we were very near the Iowa side when a train went by and the engineer blew his horn and waved to us. We got to Lock 11 and it turned out to be all ready for us, but as it turned out it was ready for a tow that only had 2 barges. The Lockmaster let us go anyway. We went way up to the front and on the left hand side; the barge stayed in the back on the right. Normally after the lock has been filled, you have to wait for the doors to completely open and then they blow a horn and you can leave but the Lockmaster told us that as soon as the door opened and we could get through that we should just get out of there. So we raced out at top speed, me paddling for all I was worth. We made it with no problem. That was the Dubuque lock and we stopped at a park in Dubuque. We FINALLY had come cell coverage so John checked his email and we called a few people.
As we were leaving there, we were in a big expanse of water (again) and there was a paddle wheel boat out there. the Spirit of Dubuque. It was so windy we decided to cross over to the Illinois side (just crossed into IL) It was really tricky crossing and we took on a fair amount of water. Enough that John used the bilge pump to get rid of it. That thing works really well. Then we looked back and saw the paddleboat again, it was going to pass us. Luckily we were near the shore because as we looked over to see how the wake was and it was huge. Like about 3 feet. The good thing was that it radiated straight back whereas most wakes flow outward on either side. The waves finally did reach us but they were quite far apart and it was kind of neat. Usually we have a problem with the wakes from the pleasure boats because the waves are so close together.
We finally found a spot to camp and John spotted an other snake in the water. After we set up, John was checking out the site and spotted another snake tucked under some rocks not too far from the tent. So we have to be careful where we walk I'm sure they're friendly though.
I'm sure I heard a coyote last night. They sound so neat. Between the thunder of the train and the loud humming of the barges the coyote was a welcome sound.
Wednesday, June 11, 2003
River mile starting 577, ending 556. There are new data on the GPS. Odometer 19.9 (a wonderfully easy day), moving time 4hr 16 min. Then I put in the time of day as one of the indicators (4:10), total odometer 251.6, Max speed 6.6, moving average speed 4.7, overall average 3.8 mph
What a wonderful day. The wind was out of the east so we hugged the east shore and it was quite calm. Actually at times it was perfectly calm. We didn't see anybody after we left our site (we did see a couple of fishermen right in that area) but after that we only saw herons, bald eagles and some Baltimore Orioles. It was great. As we neared our destination (the city of Bellevue, IA) we decided to get off the main river and go down the Bellevue Slough. It was neat, like riding in the quiet part a city. We stopped at an Iowa county park for lunch. It wasn't on our map, we just saw it there - called Spruce something Harbor. Great place for lunch.
From there to the Lock 12. And just for a little more excitement there was a 15 barge tow just almost coming out. The Lockmaster told us it would be about 20 min and we should wait. So of course we went up as close as we possibly could. John got pictures of the barges as they were coming out of the Lock. We sat there waiting about 50 feet away. The towboat pushes the barges so it came out last and we were expecting no wake. However there was quite a wake. Except for some turbulence right there and further into the lock, it was ok.
Our campsite was just a mile or less down from the lock. It's actually a restaurant called the River Bottom and he has a "space" there and that's where we camped. He also had a dock we tied off to. I thought it was suppose to be nice out today but it remains very overcast and what I call chilly. John thinks it's just fine. We set up our tent and then went and did some laundry. The place didn't have one of those machines to buy little laundry boxes from, so we rummaged through the garbage and got everyone else's big bottles of laundry detergent that they threw out and by getting those last few dripping from numerous bottles, we scrounged up enough soap for one load of laundry. Then we went grocery shopping. We should have enough food to get to St. Louis.
As John was talking to our neighbor, there was a barge in the lock and 2 more coming upstream. So we ran down to the lock to see how they lock 15 barges through. For an upstream lockage they move 9 barges in, 3 wide and 3 long. The towboat pushes 9 barges in and the 9 are secured in the lock. The towboat, still connected to the 6 remaining barges backs out of the lock. The downstream lock doors are closed. The lock is flooded and raised to the level of the upstream side. The upstream lock door is opened and a winch is used to move the 9 barges out of the lock chamber. The upstream lock doors are closed. The lock chamber is drained, the downstream lock doors are opened. The tow and the remaining 6 barges move into the lock. The downstream doors are closed. The lock chamber is flooded, raising the 6 barges and the tow to the level of the upstream side of the lock. The up stream lock doors are opened. The tow and the 6 barges reconnect to the 9 barges on the upstream side. Once reconnected they are ready to move on - that's where John and I came in. We were sitting there waiting as they reattached all the barges and then the tow boat pushed all 15 of them out. It's quite a slick operation.
We then just walked through the park that runs all along the waterfront here. These little waterfront towns are such pretty little places and everyone is very nice.
Thursday, June 12, 2003
River starting mile 556, ending 526. Odometer 29.3, moving time 6 hr, total Odometer 280.9, max speed 6.5, moving av. 4.9, overall average 3.7mph.
John called Rick this morning and his dog will be having puppies any minute so he and Brian will not be coming canoeing with us. Darn. We would have only had to have paddled about 18 miles today and instead we almost hit 30. Early on it was uneventful. The day started out quite chilly and cloudy. We ran into a couple of barges and a hundred fishermen it seemed. It's pretty funny because it will quiet down and we'll stop to eat lunch and leave the canoe parallel along the beach in the shallow water. Today we had lunch on a small totally sand island. There was one dead tree log on the back, but otherwise it was only sand. With the canoe just sitting quietly. And first one fisherman zooms by one way; then another one going the other way. Then 2 go by, then another and the canoe is bouncing all over the place, so John had to go and drag it up a little so it won't be washed out to sea.
Our excitement today came about as we saw a tow without any barges cruising along, coming our way. We noted the wake it was throwing up. As it passed us and we kept canoeing. We noticed that the waves seemed to be getting bigger and bigger. We turned into it and just waited. Well we got through the first wave ok - which I thought was really good. But generally it's the second wave that gets us because they are so close together in distance. The 2nd one only got a little water in the canoe. Generally after that, they die down, but this one had a third wave. Not exactly the mother of all waves but as I sit in the front, I was duly impressed. It just washed right over the bow. I can't estimate how much water we took on, but I had to sponge out the front and then the water runs to the back because the stern is a lower than the bow and John had to use the bilge pump to pump the water out. Right after that a big boat that we thought was a paddle-wheeler was coming our way and they even opened the railroad bridge to let it through. And I thought "Oh no, this is way bigger than the last paddle wheeler we encountered, this'll kill us". But luck was smiling on us. It wasn't a true paddle wheeler, it had the fake paddles in the back but had actual propellers so the wake it gave off wasn't too bad.
Now we are camped at the Thompson Causeway Campground. We had a tough time getting the canoe over the rocky shoreline because there was no boat ramp but when we looked the area over from the water, there was only 1 camper. Now there are 2. The campground guy stopped by to tell us we should pay, but it's about a mile down the road and he said he'd come back and give John a ride to the place to pay in his neat little campground cart. But he's late. Maybe he forgot.
Friday, June 13, 2003
River mile starting 526, ending 504. Odometer 22.9,moving time 4hr 34 min, total odometer 303.81, max speed 7, moving average 5, overall average- 4.1 mph.
Just as we were getting ready to leave this older gentleman came up to talk to us and gave us some info about the river for today. For one thing he told us not to go down Beaver Slough, which we were going to, because there is a lot of barge traffic in there. And sure enough, just as we were approaching Beaver Slough, a tow pushing a single barge was coming out. Actually it appeared that he was following us. But we finally got away. The guy also told us about this beautiful sandy area, where we are camped right now. Along with all the people and their huge boats. They're not camping (I don't think) - just sunning themselves and enjoying the day.
When we left this morning it was quite foggy. It also occurred to us that it was Friday,the 13th and we would be going through Lock 13. I took it as a good omen. When we got to the lock, John called ahead and the Lockmaster said it would be ready. He said that at least one boat had called ahead but the fog probably slowed him down.
Right after we got through the lock, John spotted a raccoon on the shore. We have seen many footprints of raccoons, but haven't seen any. This was a small one - he was so cute. We were very quiet and just sat there and watched him. John took his picture.
We paddled through Clinton and it was pretty neat. There were many barges parked along the edge of the river but it was another nice river town and we went through the narrowest part of the channel in the whole Mississippi River (according to that guy). We were the only people there so it was wide enough, but it would have been scary to be there with a barge by us. But I get scared any times I see a barge.
The weather today struck me as being hot and humid. I probably need to drink more. Today was a short day, only 23 miles or so. I was tired at the start and am tired now. So it's good to sit and rest.
Saturday, June 14, 2003
Tracey's birthday. River mile starting 504, ending 473. Odometer -29.2, moving time 6hr 6 min, total odometer 333.03, max speed 6.9, moving average 4.8, overall average- 3.8mph.
The plan was to get up at 5 today to get to the first of 2 locks early. It kind of happened; we started paddling at 6:45. Hit Lock 14 around 9. Lock 14 has two locks and on the weekends they have this deal whereby pleasure craft get to go through their own lock and tow boats go through the other. The only problem was they wound us all over the place before we got to the lock. Once through there we paddled onward to the next lock, 10 miles down the river.
On the way we saw a tow boat pushing some barges on our side of the channel, but he seemed to not be moving so we stopped too in order to figure out what he was doing. But he just sat there. So we decided that if he was going to park the barges, we would be in his way so we decided to just cut straight across the channel. Quickly. We started paddling like crazy to cross the channel and then stopped after about 3 strokes because there was a moving barge right alongside of us going in our direction. That's why the first barge as waiting. So we stayed where we were and went behind the first barge because we knew he wasn't going to park stuff in the area that we were in. After we passed him, there right in front of us was another tow, working on the side of the river with some barges. The second barge remained alongside of us the whole time and then this transport "craft" that shuttles people on the river came right between us and the moving tow. All these different boats were driving me crazy and then just in the nick of time John saw a municipal ramp and park so we stopped for lunch.
We made it to Lock 15 with no problem and again we had our own lock and this time we didn't have to go out of our way to get there. We did lock through with 3 pleasure boats - one of them was a real monster, that is, it was huge. The fact that they have 2 locks open for pleasure craft on the weekend should give you some indication of the amount of boat traffic we are encountering.
When we left that lock and probably for the next 5 miles it was just nuts!! One boat after another, swells and waves every which way. In the places where there are walls alongside the banks, the waves reverberate and it is just a hodge podge of riled water. We did ok though. We are now camped across from the city of Buffalo, Iowa.
We also went past the spot where the Rock River merges with the Mississippi River.
Perhaps I should write about my aches and pains. The first day we always go crazy; we did around 30 miles and I thought I completely wrecked my left rotator cuff. But the next day I found it to be much better. For the next couple of days I had trouble on and off with my lower arms, from my wrist to elbow in that they were weak. I couldn't push down on the paddle with one arm or the other, luckily never with both arms at the same time. After a couple of days those got better and I started noticing some pulling in the middle of my chest although that would come and go. I should mention that I paddle best on my left side; the right side gives me much trouble. So I observed exactly what I did on the left to try and do the same on the right. I'll be darned if suddenly one day I could paddle way better and more efficiently on my right side. Except I think I overdid it because then I pulled a muscle in my ribcage area. That was yesterday and if I start out slow, I can just work into doing it harder and better. I don't think I have any muscles left to pull so I expect things to get much better. The mornings are usually fun and enjoyable to paddle but by afternoon I start getting tired.
Sunday, June 15, 2003
Father's Day. River mile starting 473, ending 440. Odometer 33.2, moving time 6 hr 42 m, total odometer366.2, max 7.3, moving average4.9, overall average 4.3mph.
We had a quiet start, very few boaters out. We stopped at a park and got some water. Then we came up to Lock 16. There was a pleasure craft (fairly big one) waiting to lock through with us and there was a tow in there going upstream that we had to wait for. We're getting pretty good now at what to expect when those tows come out, so we got in quite easily. The problem occurred when we got in the lock, looked up and saw that a barge was sitting immediately outside the doors that we would be exiting from. Frequently it is a little choppy leaving the lock, plus there was a powerboat in there with us and now there was a barge parked right in front of us which would give us about 30 feet of maneuvering space to go between the wall and the barge. I looked out there and saw whitecaps (bad sign). John motioned for the pleasure boat to go out first - it's supposed to be a no wake zone. So he no waked for a while and then took off. They were also spilling water from the dam which makes for a lot of turbulence. I really didn't think we'd make it. If there were just waves, that would be one thing, but you have everything in play - the wake from the pleasure boat, the dam spilling, the engine from the tow sitting there waiting to get into the lock and it is just a swell of water hitting us in front and in back in all different directions. You get turned to the right and the left and jostled. The waves were about 2 - 2 1/2 ft high. John yelled at me to not paddle so I could just sit in the boat evenly in the center and "Try to relax and remain calm"!!! HAH. He did a fabulous job of getting us to calmer water and I did a fabulous job of not fainting. That's the worst I have ever seen it. Our wonderful canoe. We didn't even hardly take on any water.
We stopped at Muscatine Iowa for groceries. John went almost a mile to get them and the store was closed down about 2 years ago. He did find a drug food store and got some stuff. All this time I sat and visited with this guy who lived in Muscatine and we just talked about the river.
We continued onward as every single person in Muscatine who had a boat put it in and was driving our way. We passed one area that John called the "Riviera of the Mississippi" as there were 35 boats beached there on a beautiful sandy beach. We on the other hand couldn't find a nice sandy beach as they were all taken and we wound up on a fairly muddy beach. Once you got back a little ways it was fine and we had a good night. It was tricky for John to get everything out of the canoe because when you step in this stuff it grabs at your shoes and won't let go. It's like quick sand but stops after a little while. But it loves shoes.
We heard an unfamiliar bird sound that John determined was most probably an owl. Very strange. We also heard a screech owl - that one he recognized.
Monday, June 16, 2003
River mile starting 440, ending 407. Odometer-30.3, moving time 6 hr 9 min, total odometer- 396.55, max speed 7.6, moving average- 4.9, overall average -3.9mph
Started at 7 today; the lock was 3 miles downstream and we got right in and out. We stopped at New Boston, IL., for water and stopped at Keithsburg, IL., for groceries but they did not have any, so then we stopped at Oquacka, IA., for groceries and for lunch. The guy at the grocery store gave us a postcard about an elephant named Norma Jean. The postcard shows the picture of the monument they made to Norma Jean. The circus was in town in 1972 and right before they were going to do their circus stuff lightning struck and killed Norma Jean. (she was born in 1942) The town people decided to bury her their in town square and they put up a monument to Norma Jean.
We seem to have trouble lately finding a nice sandy beach. That's the reason we wound up going through lock 18 also because we couldn't find a place to stay. We had to wait about an hour for a tow that was coming upstream. Actually it was just like yesterday. We waited for the tow to come out. (Except this time the Lockmaster came out and told us to be careful of the wash from the engine and we could pull back into their little bay). All was okay. We went in the lock and there right smack up in front was a tow ready to pull in as we were going out. I was about frantic remembering yesterday. However as it turned out, they weren't spilling water from the dam, the tow didn't hardly have his engine going and their was no pleasure boat in there with us. It was a snap. Sigh of relief.
We are camped about 1 and a half miles down from that lock on another not quite as muddy beach. However it is in the shade. It is a nice spot. The sun is getting so hot during the day. We have both been drinking about a gallon of water (from our camelbacks) plus I have been dipping a neckerchief in the water and then putting it on my head to keep me wet and cool. There was a beaver in our area last night. John saw it swimming in the water, but then it went under water. Last night we heard it slapping its' tail on top of the water.
Tuesday, June 17, 2003
River mile starting 407, ending 398. A planned short day. Odometer 10.8, moving time 2 hr 9 min, Total odometer 407.36, max speed 6.7, moving average 5, overall average 3.1mph.
We decided to have an easy day since we had 2 long ones in a row. We stopped at Burlington IA for water and found out that they are having their Waterfront Days (or whatever) and that a big band will be playing each night. We opted to leave when we had been told that there was a wonderful sandy island not too many miles down. And yes, it is beautiful and big. When we got here at 10 AM, no one was here. That changed quickly. There were people coming and going all day. Young kids, families, grandparents, middle aged, everyone came to our island. One guy came up to talk to us and said that on the weekend there are boats lined up for the entire sandy area and then the boats start docking out in the water. Guess we had it good. Never more than 10 boats here at a time.
On our easy day off John decided to fiberglass one spot in the canoe that has a small fracture and my poor ailing canoe paddle. On the tip of the paddle that you put in the water, the laminate has come apart and it is literally in 2 pieces. So fiber glassing it would have worked great; I should say easily, except the fiberglass stuff was in the original box not opened and when John opened it, it had leaked all over. Since it was in the original package we didn't realize it since the mess was still inside the package. He fiber glassed everything anyway. What a mess. Plus his hands are also totally but hopefully not permanently fiber glassed. My paddle looks like it should work fine.
Wednesday, June 18, 2003
River mile starting 398, ending 363. Odometer 34.4, moving time 7hr 11min, total odometer 441.72, max speed 7.6, moving average 4.8, overall average 3.8.
We got up at 4:45 AM today because we wanted to go through the Keokuk Lock and we weren't sure if we would be able to find a place to camp nearby. It was a wonderful start to the day - cloudy. That sun just drains us both.
As we were paddling John noticed a barge coming toward us - he always spots them first. You can frequently see them 2 - 3 miles away. As it got closer he saw something swimming in the water in front of the barge which we think was a deer. The deer made it across, but just as it was about to come out of the water onto land the barge blocked our view and we never did get to see it again. We also saw a little fawn on the edge of the forest.
We paddled long and hard today. Sometime the wind was at our back, sometime in our face. Sometime the water was perfectly calm, sometimes quite riled up, but with small type waves. John thought it seemed like we were going over moguls. We had some huge expanses of water to cross today for most of the time and it seems like you are going nowhere. At one point we started touching bottom on a huge sandbar and John got out and pushed the canoe a while. That was a little different.
The big part of the day was at the end when we came to the lock. About 5 miles from it, suddenly this huge building appeared in the distance. John said it looked like a hydro generating plant. We both thought it looked like a lock. And each was true. There is a really big dam here that is connected with that building and the lock is kind of tucked back and away. We got smack to the lock before we even figured out which part of it was the lock. As we were saying to each other "which one is the lock? Where are the doors?' your friendly Lockmaster actually walked out and greeted us. This has never happened before. They were just very nice. It took him about 5 min to get it ready.
Keokuk is different from the other locks in that normally two vertical doors open before we can enter the chamber but with this place the door sank down into the water. Then the size of it is enormous. Normally the locks will accept barges 3 long by 3 wide. This one will accept 3 wide by 6 long (so that includes 17 barges and the tow). And then I think it dropped 32 feet. When it was all said and done we felt like a peanut in this monstrously huge cavern. It was awesome and we were the only ones in there.
We were lucky enough to find an island right outside the lock. But it had a sign on it that said "rent an island" with a phone # to call. John called and asked how much to rent for one night as we were canoeists going from Minneapolis to New Orleans. The nice lady said it was free; just keep it clean. Just about that time the wind started howling, the skies turned dark so we zoomed around and set up the tent, John put up a shelter and we got everything put away in fast order. It only rained a very little, but it was pretty exciting to watch the weather.
We saw something else unusual today. We went under a dual use bridge that had a road on the top part and a railroad bridge underneath it. It was so low that they had to turn it sideways to open it for many bigger boats, certainly barges. I was talking to one of the locals and he said that it takes barges 45 min to go through. Plus if you are leaving Iowa you don't have to pay but if you are entering IA you have to pay $1.00. I'll bet you have to pay whether you have to wait 45 min or not. The guy said that the alternative is to cross 20 miles north at Burlington or 20 miles south at Keokuk.
Thursday, June 19, 2003
River mile starting 363, ending 332. Odometer 30.9, moving time 6hr, Total odometer 472.58, max speed-7.7, moving average 5.2, overall average 3.6mph.
The wind howled all night long and when we got up around 5:30 it looked very much like rain. It never did rain but it remained cloudy for most of the morning. They said the wind was supposed to be out of the NE at 10-20. It was out of all 4 directions. We went through mostly choppy waves today. The worst and most exciting part of the day was when we hit lock 20. There was a tow just going into the lock and when John called he said it wouldn't be too long. But the current was quite strong and the wind even stronger and it pushed us right into the lockage area. You are supposed to wait a little ways from the lock doors between the 2 big walls that are maybe 100 feet apart. But we just had a terrible time. We were taking on water because the waves were just high enough and choppy enough. We had to turn the bow into the wind, away from the lock doors and just sit and wait and bounce all over. It was so nice to get into that peaceful lockage chamber. When we came out, that side of the dam was way more quiet and we had an uneventful day.
We are camped at Hogback Island. Now we know how to do this. These people think of these places as beaches and anyone can go and park anywhere on the beach. So we just pick a spot away from everyone else. It works during the week, the weekends are more crazy.
Only saw a couple of tows today and only a couple of boats. One bald eagle, some white pelicans, many many turkey vultures. But it was a hard, grind it out day - hot, windy and never seeming to get to where you want to go.
Friday, June 20, 2003
River mile starting, 332, ending 302. Odometer 29.5, moving time 6hr, total Odometer 502.06, max speed 7.3, moving 4.9, overall average 4.3.
Got up early again (5:30) and were paddling by 6:50. It was a nice quiet start. We stopped at Quincy, IL to get water. They had such a beautiful waterfront park. The lock was next. John called the guy, he said to come in and by the time we got there (John called about a quarter mile away) the doors were opening and we paddled right in.
Next was Hannibal, MO. We actually stopped at a boat club to dock the canoe and then walked up into the city. Very nice. We had lunch and almost went to the Mark Twain museum, but you had to pay to get in so we didn't go.
When we got back to the canoe the
caretaker must have told his friend we were there because he was interested in what we were doing and we talked for a while and he even took our picture. He used to sail and kayak on Chesapeake.
We got back on the water and it had really turned windy. In our face. We had some wind in the morning, but this was quite a bit more. After about 6 miles of that, we stopped at a sandbar about a mile or so before the lock. I am really stiff and sore and tired. There was a possibility that we might not have a campsite on the other side of the lock, so we stayed here. I am still finding new muscles that are sore.
About 30 feet back from the sandbar that we are camped on is some vegetation, so John kind of whacked it down so we could put the tent on it. When I walked back there, you can see the railroad tracks about 100 yards back and right across the tracks is someone's back yard!! Here I thought we were canoeing down the Mississippi in the wilderness, away from civilization and we're almost in someone's back yard.
But we must be in the wilderness because as John and I were sitting on the beach in the evening, we looked over about 150 feet and there was a little fawn that had come out of the forest for a drink. She saw us and watched and watched to see if we would move. Then she had a little drink and went into the forest. Came back out again in a minute and John thought she probably wanted to walk down the beach. She bolted back into the forest and we didn't see her again.
Saturday, June 21, 2003
River mile starting 303, ending 273. Odometer 29.7, moving time 6hr 35 min, Total Odometer 531.79, max speed 6.9, moving average 4.5, overall average 3.6.
Another 30 mile day. And a windy one too. We were 1 mile from the lock, packing up our stuff and a 15 barge tow passed us. We decided to go anyway, even though we would have to wait. They usually call ahead about 1 mile and as they call in, that's how they are in line to wait. So as we got nearer, John called in too and the Lockmaster said that the tow by us was waiting because a northbound tow had called first, but the northbound tow wasn't ready to enter yet and so he would take us! Unbelievable how lucky we are. He was a nice guy too, we talked to him for a while as the lock was emptying to our exit level..
We paddled to Louisiana, MO and had lunch at their very nice riverfront park. As we left, it was getting windier but we were in cell phone coverage so I called and talked to people while John paddled. It was neat.
When we got to Lock 24 we noticed there was a northbound tow in the lock. John called and found out that he was almost done so we got to get right in again with very little waiting.(for anyone keeping track, there is no Lock number 23). There were also 2 pleasure craft that entered with us and the one boat came over and talked to us the whole time because the 2 ladies in that boat had canoed the Missouri River a couple years ago. They must have been in their 50's. They traveled 1700 miles from the start in Montana (Great Falls maybe ?) to St. Louis (I think). We compared notes.
Clarksville is the city at Lock 24 so John went and got a few supplies (having bacon and eggs tonight) and then we crossed the river to the IL side and that is where we are camping, right across from Clarksville.
Sunday June 22, 2003.
River mile starting 273, ending 249. Odometer 23.4, moving time 4hr 49 min, Total odometer 555.21, max speed 6.4, moving average 4.8, overall 3.4mph.
I should make the remark that the moving average speed will vary because if I remember I turn the GPS off at lunch time to conserve the battery.
Tonight we are on our own sandbar/island. There is 1 huge long dead tree trunk and the rest is only sand. It's way cool. John always puts up a shade shelter so we had to paddle over to the "mainland" to scrounge for branches. We could be in trouble if the river rises more than 4 feet tonight. Last night they must have lowered the river about a foot because when we woke, it was down from where it had been when we went to bed.
We saw quite a bit of tow traffic on this Sunday. There were 3 of them waiting to lock upstream at lock 24. Later this afternoon we have also seen quite a few pleasure boaters and or fishermen. We have also been dealing with a terrible head wind. It's very changeable. Some times it is so bad you can hardly paddle into it; then it is fairly calm, and then anything in between.
There was a tow going our way right along side of us so we decided to go through one of the sloughs. As we were paddling along we came to this guy in his pontoon boat just sitting. Come to find out that his motor died and he asked us to go across the river to the far shore (not very far) and get this lady at this certain house and tell her that he was stuck. John went and told her and she asked if we could tow him home. I don't think so.
As we were leaving that area we had to cross some wing dams that were setting up all kinds of waves. Wind, waves and wing dams. The wind makes the waves from the wing dams even worse.
Wing dams are made of cement and rocks and trees and tires to help keep the sediment from going into the channel and to keep the water going into the channel. They jut out from the shore toward the channel at various odd lengths. They can be as close as 500 feet apart and appear in a series of 6 - 10. Or they can appear anywhere in any odd place. But you can tell where they are (by looking at the navigation map) or by the waves that they create in the water. There are very specific looking waves that are about 3- 12 inches in height and they occur in series of 4 to 6. Before you get to those waves, as you are paddling, there is an depression in the water, sometimes very noticeable. The depression is quite dark in color, maybe 20 or 30 feet long and it's very smooth. As you keep paddling, it's like you are going downhill and then you have to go uphill. Then come those very specific waves. After that, sometimes, but not too frequently, there are more circular areas. These areas are lighter in color and they act like whirlpools. The sizes can vary from very small (1 foot in diameter) to some that are 20 feet in diameter. For those over a foot, I've never seen that visual whirlpool effect but sometimes as you paddle through these, your paddle stroke is like neutralized. You paddle and nothing happens. Luckily by the 2nd paddle stroke you are going again, but it is very weird. When you add wind to these wing dams the waves increase in size and number. It makes for a very exciting day.
Another exciting thing about the Mississippi is the current, which is supposed to get stronger after the locks are done. Since we have a GPS we can determine how fast we are going. When we are in the channel (where the current is) we can paddle without too much effort at about 6 to 6.5 mph. When the wind is in our face and we are in the current we can paddle close to 5.5 -5.8mph without too much effort. When we are in the sloughs or way out of the channel, we paddle at about 4 to 4.5 mph with great effort.
There are big red and green buoys in the water, between which is the channel. These buoys are about 4 and a half feet above the water. They are held in place by a large cement block and a cable. The Corps of Engineers move the buoys as necessary to mark the channel. The buoys basically stay in one place. But as you approach it and get close to it, you can see the strength of the current because these very big buoys bob back and forth like crazy and if you get too close it would be very easy to run into it because it swings and sways all over the place.
As we are paddling downstream the green ones are on the right and the red ones are on the left of the channel. The green ones are square at the top and the red ones are pointed to help distinguish them in low light.
Monday, June 23, 2003.
River mile starting 249, ending 231 at the Two Branch Marina. We're waiting for Ellie to pick us up. Odometer 18.2, moving time 4 hr 12 min, Total Odometer 573.45, max speed 6.4, moving average 4.3. I changed the overall average to "heading" so I know what direction I'm going.
We slept in today; didn't even turn on John's alarm and we woke up right before 6 AM. Generally we get up about 5:30 ish. There was a tow going by, on his way to the next lock that we would be heading for.
We started out by paddling into a fairly ferocious wind, which usually doesn't happen that early in the morning. We had about 7 miles to get to the lock. The wind was on and off after we went about the first mile. We came to a place with some islands and decided to go between the islands. It is so hard to see what you are looking at sometime. As we got a little further between the 2 islands it became quite sandy. We both wound up getting out of the canoe and walking for a ways, pulling the canoe, but we were walking in the sand and it felt nice.
After we got back in the canoe we looked between those islands from the angle that we were at then and it was very apparent from that view that we would never have made it. There were sand bars visible everywhere from our new viewpoint.
Shortly thereafter we saw the lock. There was a tow coming through upstream and the tow that had passed us while we were eating breakfast was sitting and waiting on our side to be locked through. We figured we would have to wait for the tow on our side to get locked through first, but John called anyway just so the Lockmaster knew we were there and he said if we could get there fast enough we could lock through right after the tow that was in there that was almost done. We must have been about a mile from the lock and we sprinted as fast as we could to get up there to a safe place and wait. It almost killed us both. It felt like we were flying (upon checking the GPS we found out it was only 6.4 - I thought surely we were going 8mph). So we got up to our safe area (the 2nd lock chamber - not in use) and we had to brake to slow down. There we sat for at least 10 minutes. We locked through. Unfortunately there was another upstream tow sitting RIGHT THERE as we came out; but we're getting much better at that. John knows exactly how to steer and I'm getting better at knowing when not to steer/or paddle.
For whatever reason, even though it was still windy, the waves weren't that bad. We had a very slow and leisurely paddle to our destination here at Two Branch Marina.
Tues – Wed June 24-5, 2003.
We spent Tuesday and Wednesday visiting with John’s sister, Ellie and visiting her children and their families. It was very nice to see them all and have a rest from the river.
Thursday, June 26, 2003.
Tomorrow we will be leaving Ellie's and put in past Lock 27 to begin the rest of our journey. I decided that I didn't want to contend with those barges anymore
to get through the locks. After traveling everywhere looking for a boat ramp to put in on, on Wednesday (we finally found out that the one we were looking for didn't exist anymore), John looked at the map and called the Lockmaster at Lock #27 and confirmed through him where a convenient boat ramp was. Today we drove there and found it with no trouble.
We've been all over in O'Fallon, drove through St. Louis, and saw old Town St. Charles. Very neat. It's also where the Lewis and Clark expedition took off. They went up the Missouri River and onto the West Coast.
St. Louis got anywhere from 2 - 5 inches of rain last night and there was flash flooding in a number of nearby places. When we checked out the boat ramp there was a ton of logs and sticks and stuff floating down the river. I hope it's better tomorrow. When John had called the Lockmaster, he had said that by the weekend, the river would have dropped a total of 4 feet for the week. We had noticed that the river was dropping, so I think it was a good thing that it rained.
We got to see Jen, Steve and Ashleigh and their house; and Clay, Shelley, Jacque, Emily and Bryanna and their house. And Ellie's way cool house.
Friday June 27, 2003.
River mile starting 189, ending 165. Odometer 25, moving time 4hr 5 min, Total odometer 598.66, max speed 9.5 (!!!RECORD!!!), moving average 6.2.
We skipped Locks 26 (Mel Price) and 27 and put in on the river off of Riverview Drive. To get through lock 27 you have to go through the Chain of Rocks Canal - that's where the channel is and all the barges go through there. We put in on the river, not in the canal and we paddled for about 5 miles before the Chain of Rocks Canal joined the river. It was actually kind of scary because the river was high since they had that big rain a day or two ago. It also seemed like we were going over many wing dams, although I certainly don't know why they had them in that part of the river. The river didn't have it's usual little ripples; it was that smooth rotating stuff that I associate with wing dams. It was just very odd and I was glad when the canal joined the river and we had the channel there again.
However, there were so many barges parked. SO MANY BARGES.... They were lined up against the shore, like usual, but then there would be another group of barges out farther in the river and then even another group. The river was very wide but it was quite unnerving to have all of these barges parked everywhere. And this was true on both sides, although there were fewer barges on the other side and more tow boats lined up on that other side, probably awaiting their assignment.
We did paddle by the Arch which was way cool. And the waterfront was pretty cool too. There were a couple pleasure boats out and some of the smaller tow boats (they get all barges parked and arranged on the side of the river in preparation for a big tow boat to take them to their destination). We encountered some pretty big waves from all the barge traffic. It was very windy at times and then again not so windy at times. At the area where it was so windy we took on quite a bit of water, the waves going every which way.
We stopped for lunch on a beautiful sandbar and then took off as 2 tows without barges zoomed by us. For whatever reason, the waves that they gave off were spaced further apart and were more rolling and smooth. I hope they continue to be that way. We are camped on some sand on the Illinois side. Across from us are some incredible homes on the Missouri bluffs.
We saw our first 20 barge tow today. That was a first. The towboat had 3 smoke stacks; also a first. The tows that we had been seeing only had 2 smokestacks. One of the lockmasters told us that tows north of St Louis have between 4 to 6 thousand horsepower. But the ones that run south of St. Louis can have up to 10000 horsepower.
We also saw something unusual tonight. Actually John heard it first. He heard a buzzing and looked up in the trees near where we are camped and saw bees swarming. They were swarming all on their own, at the tops of the trees. He thought it must have been because the queen was moving. We quickly put up our tent just in case they were angry. But they just seemed to slowly move down the tree line on their own.
Saturday, June 28, 2003.
River mile starting 165, ending 135. Odometer 29.7, moving time 5 hr 15 min, Total odometer 628.36, max speed 8.3, moving av. 5.6.
The current here is quite amazing. When you are in the channel, even if it is just on the edge of the channel, your speed greatly increases. We were easily paddling at 6.5 - 7.2 mph today. We figured out that the reason we have such a high max. Speed is because when we go zipping past the buoys, since the buoy causes an obstruction in the flow, it goes even faster right alongside the buoy.
Since we really don't have to paddle that hard any more, we took a nice lunch break on a really neat sandbar. It had shade so we just sat there and enjoyed the view.
This section of the river is so different from up north by us. Less pleasure boat traffic, more barge traffic plus it looks more like a river now. Above St. Louis we would go through so many wide expanses of water. There is also less civilization now. Very few cities right on the river, hardly any marinas, a few boat ramps. Wherever we wind up on the 4th of July will be interesting to see if we will have to deal with a lot of boaters.
The weather has not been too bad, or else I'm getting used to the heat. If the wind blows it makes a huge difference as to how hot we get. This evening especially is quite lovely. I don't think it's too humid, no mosquitoes YET, no biting flies, a light breeze and it's shady.
Our big excitement of the day was that a 42 barge tow passed us. He was going upstream. I have been quite excited because the big tow boats that pass us, going our direction hardly give off any wake. And John kept saying "That's because of the current; wait till one passes us going upstream" I hate it when he's right. And then it had to be a 42 barge tow. It's kind of odd because they are not that far from you, when you are paddling. You can see the barges first, and then the tow boat and then you see the (monster) wake from the tow boat, but still you just keep paddling because it is nice and calm and then Watch Out!!!. All of a sudden those waves are just there. John thought that these waves were probably 5 feet high. It was incredible. The good news is that they are long, rolling waves; they're not one on top of the other. And they seem to just keep coming. First from the left, then from in front of us, then from the right, then they join - but they continued to be smooth and rolling no matter which way they came so it was kind of fun. The only time we ran into problems is when we wound up going over a wing dam and those stupid waves are so choppy and close together and this time they were also about 2 feet higher. Luckily that was for only a very short distance. I forgot to mention that when those big waves first started to hit us, I swear the wind picked up from 10 mph to 30. It was a good thing it was in our face, because a quartering wind would have been tough to handle.
Sunday, June 29, 2003.
River mile starting 135, ending 102. The GPS shut off on it's own because the battery was low and so the Odometer Is not correct. Odometer 31.1, moving time 4 hr 48 min, Total odometer -659.47, max speed 8.7, moving average 6.5 mph. The current continues to be awesome.
We are staying on a sandbar tonight that is 2 1/2 miles long and a half mile wide. John was hiking around here and saw 2 deer and 1 fox. It's practically like walking through a desert. You can even see heat waves emanating from the sand. There is a scrubby forest behind us and that's where we are sitting because there is nice shade. At night we heard what we thought was the fox howling; it wasn't like wolves howl. The fox would bark once or twice and then do a sort of long howl. It was pretty neat.
We have been taking longer lunch breaks since we don't have to paddle so hard to get a certain distance. I'm liking it. Today as we sat for lunch we watched 4 or 5 tows going downstream and after they passed, we saw 4 tows going upstream. It almost seems like they wait for one another so they don't get bunched up in the channel.
As we first started our day today, we saw a tow coming toward us, going upstream and there was another closely behind him. So we got to check that out. The initial waves weren't too bad, long and rolling but then when the 2nd tow went through it still wasn't too bad at first. As we kept paddling however the water was just so riled up and the waves going every which way plus the distance between them was much shorter and we took on a lot of water. Like about an inch on the bottom of the boat. We stopped and bailed out the water. John is really good at steering through these waves, but sometimes there's nothing you can do.
Monday, June 30, 2003.
River Mile starting 102, ending 72. Odometer 28.4, moving time 4hr 44min, Total odometer 687.75, max speed 9, moving average 6mph.
We started off by paddling on a beautifully calm, smooth river. It reminded me of the Boundary Waters with the green forests, no people and the peacefulness of it all. Then came the first tow chugging along behind us. Shortly thereafter John spotted a tow coming toward us. It sort of reminded me of New York City rush hour. It worked out that the tow going upstream passed us first. And you just never know how the waves are going to be. They were ok, plus John really does an excellent job getting us through them. The only thing that scared me was that we didn't have a whole lot of room between us and the tow and us and the shore (with all the waves harassing us) were some parked barges and 2 towboats sitting there with their engines on. John thought that since those sitting barges were empty that they may have taken away some of the magnitude of the waves as that water went underneath them. That other tow that was following us passed us, but John doesn't even bother with tows going our direction because they hardly give off any wake.
It started to rain shortly thereafter and then it started to lightning and thunder so we stayed really close to the shore and then we even got out of the canoe when the lightning got too close and got out our lawn chairs and sat there under a tree and watched more tows go by till it quit lightning. A little further past that spot we stopped on another sandbar for a break and there were wild dogs, but they were back a ways with a small amount of water between us and them. Luckily they were pretty noisy so we knew they were there. We saw 4 or 5 of them and then heard 2 others in a different area.
John spotted a campground that wasn't even on our map so he went and got some water.
I think the tow traffic is slowing down a bit. They're not coming one after another. The humidity is extremely high. Which is bad enough but there is also no breeze. Luckily it's also cloudy.
Tuesday, July 2, 2003.
River starting mile 72, ending 50. Odometer 22.8, moving time 3hr 32 min, Total odometer 710.68, max speed 8.7, moving average 6.4.
We did something different today. We got up at our usual time of 6 am, had breakfast and them went back to bed for an hour and a half. When we woke up, I looked out the door of the tent and saw a wild turkey!
We only saw 2 tows during the morning. When we saw our 3rd, we wanted to be on the other side of the river to avoid the prop wash so we pulled out in front of it (mind you, it's at least a mile and a half away) we crossed ok as we were heading for another cool sandbar for lunch. He was just coming up to go past us and we waited and waited and waited. John thought that perhaps he was intimidated from our wake since we zoomed across the river at top speed. Finally we left our sandbar to go further down the river and there he was. He had parked right against the shore, perhaps he had some mechanical problem.
We stopped at Cape Girardeau for some food and water. When we pulled ashore some guys (40 years old) were standing there and John asked where a grocery store was. They said there was a bad one about 2 miles away and a good one about 4 miles away. So John said we didn't really need groceries. But the guy whips out his cell phone and calls his teenage kids and gets one of them to come down and take John to the (good) grocery store. The kid's name was Sam. I got to stay with the canoe but John said he was really a nice kid.
As I was waiting, a solo canoeist pulled up. He left the same time we did but he left from Lake Itasca. He was in a solo canoe that was about 17 feet long. He plans to be in New Orleans in about 20 days. I'm sure he'll make it; he said he canoed 60 miles yesterday and generally paddles about 12 hours a day. He is from Houston and is a teacher.
As I write this, a tow is going by that's 6 barges across by 7 wide - not a new record but it's going upstream. As I sit here and watch, the waves look pretty wimpy but I know that if we were out there in it, it's be a real ride.
Just a short way from arriving at Cape G., we were paddling over some wing dams and it was that calm, but kind of boiling water. Hard to describe, but I hate that certain quality of water. And all of a sudden, right next to us this area of water, about 10 feet in diameter started bubbling and gushing up and doing all sort of strange things that water is not supposed to do. Right before this, all those eddies and stuff had us fighting to keep on course because the water would push you anyway it felt like and you would keep seeing where whirlpools would start forming. Scared me to death. I'd rather be out there in the channel with the tows than deal with that weird stuff.
Tuesday, July 2, 2003.
River mile start 50, ending 21. Odometer 29.5, moving time 4hr 44min, Total odometer 740.21, max speed 8.6, moving average 6.2. A hot humid hazy day that probably had an air quality rating of red. (green, yellow, orange, red).
I should start out by saying that the perfect place I picked to camp at last night was right across from a grain elevator. Mental note - watch more carefully what is directly across the river from you. They were kind of noisy plus the whole area was lit up like daylight. Then at about 5 this morning someone was pounding with a hammer, I imagine, on a metal pipe.
Today we saw 15 deer, in various different places. The most we saw at one time was 8. We stopped at this teeny little city today for water and really lucked out. There was a campground right by the boat ramp, so John just went to an empty campsite and filled our jug. (We carry 4 two and a half gallon jugs. Whenever we have any empty, John likes to fill them especially when it is so terribly hot).
This morning we had such a nice paddle, the river was flat and calm, no tows. It wasn't super hot out early on. Things got worse as the day got longer although we are (I am) getting much calmer about passing tows. We kept running into 2 tows at a time. At one time the back one was passing the front one. The river was actually hazy today and there was almost no breeze.
We had one more episode of going over that odd boiling water and it started going nuts - as did I. That turbulence happened almost simultaneously in 3 spots right around us. I almost think that somehow the weight of the canoe sets it off. This time there appeared before our very eyes, a 5 foot whirlpool. Appeared out of nowhere. John pointed out however that it was only 5 feet across and the canoe is 18 feet long and I should not worry. We made it through ok, but it was nerve wracking.
Tomorrow we'll pass Cairo, the Ohio River merges into the Mississippi and we get to start the 2nd set of Mississippi River Navigation Charts. I've heard the current may increase even more and that the tows get bigger too. Yippee.
Thursday, July 3, 2003.
River mile starting 21, ending river mile 948. (River mile marking starts over at 951 at Cairo, IL. and counts down to zero at the Gulf) Odometer 26, Moving time 4hr 44min, Total Odometer 766.2, max. Speed 8.6, moving average 5.5.
We started out with tows everywhere and that's how we ended up. The last one had monstrous waves but they were long and rolling. Last night John saw a raccoon, I heard an owl and we both heard a snorting deer. Not an exceptionally good night for sleeping.
I went to bed early and while I was in the tent, these 2 people came roaring up on their 4 wheelers. A husband and wife, in their 50's who owned the land just past where we were camping. They came over the levy, down through the swamp and up onto the sand bar where we were camped and asked how we were doing. They were each driving a fully equipped, camouflaged 4 wheeler including gun case, water cans, extra fuel cans and a winch. Both were dressed in camouflaged fatigues. They had seen us pull up (we never did see them). He was wearing a stiletto knife with a quick release sheath over his shoulder. After the initial shock of the thunderous roar as they swooped into our campsite John had a nice chat with them. (I was asleep and never even heard them pull up). They turned out to be very nice people but somewhat of the survivalist mentality. John said they reminded him of the survivalist couple in the Movie Tremors (the one about the Graboids)
Today we canoed up the Ohio River about 100 feet. There was a State Park at the intersection of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers and John thought they might have water. They did. Naturally there was a tow going up the Mississippi, one going down the Mississippi, a couple leaving the Ohio to enter the Mississippi, and one leaving the Miss. to enter the Ohio. We were sort of in the middle of it all, but we stayed way close to shore.
There was not a problem with the confluence of the Ohio and the Miss. except for the fact that the water was riled up from all the tows. Plus the fact that where the rivers joined, the area was immense. We thought we were on a lake again.
Tonight we are camped on a stone bar island. There are a million small rocks with some sand back a couple hundred feet. It's nice because there is natural shade from the trees so John doesn't have to build a shade shelter. Continues to be hot, humid and hazy but today there is a breeze.
Friday, July 4, 2003.
River mile starting 948, ending 928. Odometer 20.7, moving time 3hr 33min, Total odometer 786.92, max speed 8.2, moving average 5.8.
A short day today. It remains hot etc etc. They said the heat indices are in the low hundreds. We laugh at hot weather!!
Actually today we stopped at a wonderful place. There is like a sandbar here with some gravelly stones on it. But if you walk out a little ways into the water you can feel the current without getting too deep. So we just sit or lay in it. It's great.
We still see quite a few herons. But our new favorite bird is some kind of a fishing bird. Slightly larger than a swallow, but with wings like a swallow. It will go up over the water where it sees a fish and just hover for about 10 seconds and then go straight down SMASH right into the water and get whatever it was looking for. If another bird of the same species comes around, the first bird will scold it and chase it away
John made me a skirt to put over the front part of the canoe. We found some plastic material that was in the shape of a tube. We found lots of this material just laying around and took some. Anyway John cut it and then duck taped it so that whenever I feel like it I can just throw it out over the bow and the part with the duck tape fits about 6 inches down in front of the canoe so it stays in place without messing up how the canoe rides and steers. The rest of it fits back over my lap and the sides of the canoe in front so that no waves come in. It works very well. I just have to figure out when to put it on. It only takes about a minute or so to get it on.
As we were sitting under the shade we heard a 4 wheeler coming and going back behind us. After a while all of a sudden this young kid comes zooming through the forest and down on the beach. John called him over to ask if he knew anything about the city of Hickman, if they have a grocery store, phone water. He told us everything and left. But not for long. He came back with 2 girls. He drove in on his 4 wheeler and they came walking down. We think that somehow there was a car left back on the road and then he drove them through the woods on his 4 wheeler. John went and said hi to them; they were nice and we got to watch them slowly get drunk. Since it was the 4th of July, we figured they wouldn't be there all night, not to mention the mosquitoes. Well they didn't leave until sunset. And by then we had to jump in the tent because the mosquitoes were getting quite ferocious.
River mile starting 928, ending 906. Odometer 24.6, moving time 4hr 18 min, Total odometer 811.53, max speed record! 9.6, moving average 5.7. The reason we hit the max speed today is that we wound up in some really crazy water. There weren't supposed to be wing dams, but it was swirling and gurgling and choppy and John asked what our speed was and when I looked it said 9.1. WOW I have never seen it that fast. Plus as I kept looking it and it stayed up in the 8.6 area for a while. John said I should write that we paddled in every direction again today. The river winds all over the place and we went N, E, S, and W. We did that also the day we paddled the Ohio (I think).
We stopped in Hickman, KY because we needed water and grocery resupply if possible. We paddled back into their harbor and asked someone where we could get some water. He said just across the street so we started going that way and this older gentleman drove by - he had been down there fishing and he asked if we needed a lift anywhere. So we decided to take him up on it. The wonderful gentleman (Bobby) had been a towboat captain, now retired. John was so excited to ask him all those questions that he's always wanted to know. I asked him if those towboats can see canoes and he said yes they have radar and we show up as a bump that shouldn't be there.
He returned us after shopping and after he left John walked up across the street to use a phone. We are having some real problems with Sprint. It says we're in sprint territory but any time you try to use it, it won't work. As it turned out, John stopped at the Cingulair place to use the phone and the guy said that Sprint has only 2 towers between here and Memphis. We are also having trouble with AOL because it won't allow John to send our email messages via our Pocket PC. It always used to but for this past week it's not working. AOL says they are trying to fix it, but can't recreate the problem.
As we were paddling today we came to a narrow part of the river. Narrow enough that the tows wouldn't pass each other. Of course that's when we showed up, with tows waiting on one side and 2 on our side going through. I have to marvel everyday at the skill with which John gets us through all these waves. He knows just when to wait, when to go fast, go slow and I do my part by not paddling. I used the skirt today. Didn't really need it for the crazy tow waves but for the really choppy wind waves and the wing dam waves. It was really a tough day paddling this afternoon in all that wind.
Last night at our campsite, there were 3 teenagers having a little party (on our beach!) and the guy lost his keys to his car. (They were sitting in lawn chairs on the edge of the water.) Anyway when John woke up in the middle of the night, he took his flashlight out to see if he could find his keys and as he was looking he saw 3 garfish, about 14 inches long.
We stopped at this island today and just after we got here we noticed it was getting darker and darker out so we quick got some shelter up, put the tent up and got everything organized right before it started to rain and thunder and lightning. It rained for a couple of hours but we stayed nice and dry in our shelter.
In the evening right about when the sun set, we saw 2 beaver floating around in the water. They were under some tree branches and so were also eating the branches on the tree.
Sunday, July 6, 2003.
River mile starting 906, ending 880. Odometer 27, moving time 4hr 23min, Total odometer 838.56, max speed 8.9, average 6.2.
We had an exciting start today. We were camped on the shore by a wing dam and so had to paddle way out to get into the channel. It was very windy and there were 5 tows coming in a row. We had a whole series of wing dams that we had to cross over. These tows were going upstream so that means that their wake was quite substantial. By the time we got to the 4th tow passing us it was a mess. The waves were so high and coming every which way, it was so windy but that blasted wing dam just made the obvious waves so much higher and we took on a ton of water. I had that skirt on which was working great except all of a sudden I found I had about a hundred pounds of water in my lap - it was held in place by the apron for about 10 sec and then there was water all over the canoe. John yelled that we had to get to shore because he had about 3 inches of water back there. So we just headed for shore where it was so windy, baled out the water and went back in. It was in fact really scary and I was just trembling. We have the best canoe ever that it stood up to all that beating from the waves and John did a fantastic job getting us through that, but that last wave, I think there were 2 of them that were just too high. When we got back out there in the thick of it, the 5th tow had just gone by, we turned the corner and it was quite calm.
We proceeded onward to New Madrid, MO. On the way, we passed a fisherman who had all these bottles out in the water and John asked him what he was doing. It's called "jugging". Each bottle has a line with a single hook on it and the bottles float down the river independently. The fishermen just take them out whenever to see if they caught anything. That guy was fishing for catfish, using herring as bait.
At New Madrid John walked up to get water and this friendly person gave him some water from his hose. John then walked about 6 blocks to use a phone and when he got there, he tried our cell phone and sure enough it worked.
Back in 1811 New Madrid had an earthquake. The tremors were felt 1100 miles away and if they had a Richter scale at that time it would have registered around 8 or 9. I guess they still have some tremors today. The city also had this most beautiful observation deck that you could look down and see the Mississippi. They had a huge levy in front of their city. Once you got over it, it was a very lovely town.
When we got back on the river, the wind was blowing like crazy again. There were no tows in sight. However it was pretty tough paddling. The river winds like crazy around here so after we turned another corner the wind wasn't much of a problem anymore. We are camped on the Missouri side, but now Tennessee is across from us.
Monday, July 7, 2003.
River mile starting 880, ending 854. Odometer 26.3, moving time 4hr 39 min, Total odometer 864.86, max speed 8.1, moving average 5.7.
Our biggest problem the last couple of days is the wind. The radio says it's 10 - 15; it feels like 25 - 30. The good news is that the Mississippi winds every which way all the time. So if you're just killing yourself going into that wind, you know that soon the river will be turning in a completely different direction and you'll get some relief. We had very little tow activity today and when we did we were in a non-windy area!
Before we started the trip, John thought our biggest problem would be the weather. Weather meaning thunder, lightning, tornadoes. The problem is the heat. Every single forecast for the entire week is highs in the low 90's, lows in the 70's, dew point 72, slight chance of thunder showers and wind 10 - 15 out of the southwest. We're really lucky when it's cloudy out. Our solution to all this is to drink lots of water (we both have camel backs that hold 100 oz of water) John almost always finishes one of those and up to 2 of them. I usually finish off 1. We both wear hats in the canoe and a long sleeved shirt (mine is just past my elbow).
We are lucky tonight because our sandy island has a bunch of trees on it so we have natural shade. It's so much more cool than putting up a tarp. We generally don't have trouble with mosquitoes until just after sunset. And then look out!! We are also annoyed by biting flies when we are in camp; however we purchased 2 fly swatters in St Louis.
As we keep going south, we keep seeing incredibly huge sandbars. Today we passed one that was 5 miles long (per the map). When you pull up on one, it's like being in the Sahara. The wing dams are getting bigger - that is, they are stretching out farther into the water. They are serious about their wing dams down here. But that's the reason they wind up with all these massive sandbars.
Tuesday, July 8, 2003.
River mile starting 854, ending 834. Odometer 19.9, moving time 2hr 57 min, Total Odometer 884.79, Max speed 9.1, moving average 6.7.
Speaking of sandbars, this place we are staying at tonight is incredible. A sandbar. It's 2 miles long and 1/2 mile wide. There are some trees on it for shade. We walked the length of it and it's amazing that they have such things on the Mississippi. It's like a perfect beach and a huge sand dune. The formations that the sand makes is so beautiful, except for the fact that it is so ungodly hot, it's like a paradise. You can see tracks where the turtles come onto shore to lay their eggs. As John and I were walking along the edge of the beach today, he pulled me back away from the water line - there had been a snake in the water, about an inch and a half in diameter and 3 feet long with his head sticking up out of the water.
Today we stopped in Caruthersville for water and groceries. There was no one there today to give us a ride so we had to walk. About a mile there and a mile back. When we got back and were putting things away when this guy stopped down and said that his friend had told him we were there and he would have given us a ride to the grocery store. We had a picnic lunch there at the waterfront park and talked to some of the locals.
These little towns can present some problems for landing a canoe because they have boat ramps but no docks and they have rocky shores. Today John wound up getting that fully loaded canoe up out of the water on about 4 logs by pushing it up. First he got all the rocks out of the way that were in the way and then somehow got it up out of the water by a couple of inches. It worked impressively well.
One of the locals was telling us that not too long ago there were 4 people who came by on jet skis. They had apparently started at Lake Itasca and were going down to New Orleans. At least one of the jet skiers was a professor and they were going to write a book, concerning the Mississippi. They also had a sag wagon with them and Polaris provided the jet skis. What a deal.
Our excitement for the day was that we almost got run over by a little tow boat. We were staying close to shore, thinking he would go out a way into the river to go around us but he didn't and so we decided we better get away from shore. Since we were so close his wake was pretty bad, but it was only 3 big waves and we made it through them without a problem.
The current was really fast today. We were frequently paddling around 8mph. At the grocery store today, we bought some spray and wash. We've been washing our clothes in the river, but it's hard to get them clean and we don't want to carry soap. So we thought we'd try spray and wash and it works great. Gets really dirty clothes quite clean.
John was able to send out the progress reports last night through Yahoo. That stupid AOL is not working nor are they answering their phones.
Wednesday, July 9, 2003.
River mile starting 835, ending 805. Odometer 31.6, moving time 5hr 12 min, Total odometer 916.42, max speed 9.2, average moving 6.1.
We started off in a terrible headwind today. Just really hard paddling. Felt like all we were doing was fighting waves, but when I looked at the speedometer it showed that we were going 5.7. Amazing. Since the river meanders so much, whenever we turned the corner, we had a fairly smooth surface to paddle on. We were paddling along today and were right near where 2 fishermen were jugging and they were pulling in a fish. We went over there to watch and they had caught like an 9 pound catfish, already having about 4 others in their cooler. They used raw pork, died red. John got a good look at the one catfish and thought it looked really clean. The fishermen said they were great eating. John even took their picture with their catfish.
Another record today in the area of tows. While we were on an island one passed us going upriver that had 49 barges; 7 by 7. They were all empty. The wake that he threw off was unbelievable. What is so amazing is that way after he was past, those waves directly behind him keep building. They had to have been 6 feet high. Glad we weren't paddling.
Thursday, July 10, 2003.
River mile starting 805, ending 799. Odometer 5.66, moving time 1 hr 28 min, Total odometer 922.08, max speed 8.1, moving average 3.8.
It was slightly raining this morning and so we actually slept in after eating breakfast. I slept until 8. It was great. Since we started from a secluded area, it was quiet paddling until we got out into the real water. There were white caps everywhere. To make a long story short, we fought those waves for a while by staying close to shore. Then we looked up to see a very threatening sky and headed for the closest island. We had to cross a wing dam to get here which was challenging but we decided to stay for the day.
By the afternoon the sun was out and the sky was blue. Guess the storm passed us by. It's not supposed to be quite so hot and humid tomorrow. I did see a cute little turtle today. I was cleaning the canoe and this roundish green thing was washed up by the waves. I thought it was just a green thing because his shell almost looked like it had algae on it. But then he put out his little legs and started to walk. But the dummy walked right back into the water and I never saw him again.
Friday July 11, 2003.
River mile starting 799, ending 764. Odometer 36.8, moving time 5 hr 24min, Total odometer 958.86, max speed 10.1 [new record] moving average 6.8.
We started off the day knowing we had to get water. We lucked out again. We found the boat ramp with nothing there, but a couple of blocks back we saw what we thought was a house. So John walked back to the house with our water jugs and returned with water in all of them! He determined that it probably wasn't a house – no one was home. But they had a faucet outside, so he took some water. It is going to get more tricky to find water as we go along. The cities are few and far between.
We had such a calm, quiet and peaceful day of paddling as compared to yesterday when we almost got blown off the river. There was a light wind and mostly it was behind us. For lunch we stopped at a sandbar and decided to go back by the trees for shade, which required going through some mud. John was first. He walked into some slightly deep mud but had his sandals on tightly and was able to keep going. Until it got almost up to his knees. He called for me - to grab the stuff he was holding but I thought I was supposed to help him and I went charging in. I stopped when it was only up to my calf. I lost one of my flip flops but John found it as he starting working his way back out. He was carrying a lawn chair and said that if he had not had that to use as a crutch, he may never have gotten out of there. Unless you have seen Mississippi mud, you can't imagine what we looked like. After washing off, we had lunch. During lunch a humming bird stopped by for a moment and then buzzed on by.
The current is so fast. It plays tricks with the water and you have to watch for the eddies and waves and whirlpools and the odd currents that are set up by those eddies, waves and whirlpools.
We ran into a bunch of tows going in each direction. It was weird paddling. At one point we were next to the shore in this super fast current with a tow going along side of us, passing us going downstream and a larger tow going upstream. Because of the situation we were in (being next to the shore in the channel) we wound up dealing with the wake from the towboat as it first comes off the boat. Not the huge high wake, but the stuff that immediately comes off that high wake. Generally, we are quite a ways away and get that long rolling stuff. This was just hard streaming water that seemed to propel at us with great force. Actually we went through it very well - John went through it very well. I watched and tried to stay calm and then paddled whenever he said to paddle. After that we waited, still near the shore for the last small tow to go by us and then we zipped across to the other side of the river where we would be camping. The water was still churned up from all the other tows going through. And once again I just have to admire the way John gets through these waves. They were now coming big and small and short and long and choppy, close together, far apart. We'd paddle fast, wait, go slow, go fast, wait and all the time going in between and amongst and alongside this menagerie of waves. It was like poetry in motion (wasn't that a song?) As opposed to what I would do and that is just paddle like crazy through everything and hope to make it through.
Saturday, July 12, 2003.
River mile starting 764, ending 736. Odometer 28.5, 4hr 22 min, Total odometer 987.37, max speed 10.3, average 6.5
We were going to stop outside of Memphis for the night and camp but John decided to go ahead into the city and stay at a motel as he had to get to a fax machine for some “Grandma Business”. As we were just entering the city a tow had gone through and the water was crazy. About 10 miles before the city we could see the skyline and it was beautiful. They had a silver pyramid that was the outstanding feature. It turned out to be their sports arena.
Upon entering the city we had 2 people stop to talk to us, the first a fisherman who told us to stop at the Marina because they welcomed "people like us". (Was he implying weirdo’s?) The other guy was a kayaker who was going up the river. He invited us to stay at his house. We did decline but his name was Grant and he was about our age and retired and practicing for a Lake Michigan, and I think Erie and Huron kayaking event. He gave us his phone # in case we needed anything.
To get to the Marina you paddled into their harbor which used to be the Wolf River. The people at the Marina were so nice. Mike gave us a ride to our motel (the Marriott) and offered to take us grocery shopping. James gave us his phone # if we needed anything, even on his day off.
Had Mike not given us a ride we would have had to take the tram, or the walkway across the harbor from Riverside Park. This is about a quarter mile and it takes you right to the downtown. We would have had to walk about 4-6 blocks downtown after we got off the walkway to get to the Marriott. On Main St. they have trolley cars running almost every 5 min. They're 60 cents per person. We just walked because it is very park like with fountains and trees everywhere. and no cars allowed on Main St.
We were surprised at the lack of people in the city. Most of the restaurants and small shops were open only Monday thru Fri. They did have a concert going on at Riverside Park at the band shell and so we walked that way with 10000 teenagers and got to listen from the walkway. We went home shortly thereafter and as we got to within a block of the Marriott you could hear like a million birds in the trees.
There was a big convention going on downtown and all these fraternity guys (mostly Black) were staying at the Marriott and other nearby motels. However everyone, I mean every single person, we meet was so thoughtful, nice and pleasant.
Sunday, July13, 2003.
Today we walked about 8 blocks downtown to rent a car so we could do our grocery shopping and Wal-Mart shopping and look for another water container. It is so hot in Memphis. I just thought I should add that. HOT. When we were done with that, we took the groceries and stuff over to the Marina and put it in the canoe. Then we went on the Mississippi River walk. It's located on Mud Island at that Riverside Park. It's a half mile long walk and it is a replica of the last 1000 miles of the Mississippi River. It shows the contours and has water running through it that you can wade in if you want. Horizontally one step equals 1 mile and one inch vertically equals 9 feet. It shows the sand bars and shore and depth of the Miss. The thought and ingenuity that went into this is absolutely amazing. We especially liked to look at the part south of Memphis so we could find out what we will be encountering.
On the way back to the motel, we parked the car at the Avis garage (because it was free) and walked back to the Marriott. It was quite windy and John looked up and commented about all the debris flying around in the sky. Well it was birds. Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of birds. I have never seen that many in my life. They were all going over to those trees where we had heard them all singing last night. We asked a couple of people at the motel about them and they all said "oh - those birds. They do this every night." We just couldn't believe it. The next day (and probably every day) the workers come out with their high intensity sprayers and had to spray the area down because of all the bird droppings.
Monday, July 14, 2003.
River mile starting 736, ending 720. Odometer 17.3, 2 hr 45 min, Total odometer 1004.64, max 9.7, moving average 6.3.
We had to wait for some faxes at the Marriott and so did not get on the river until 2 PM. I remembered the water being crazy on the way into the city and the same was true leaving the city. It must have something to do with the bottom. There were quite a few tows out and about. We were on the TN side with them and moved over to the AR side. Luckily, because just around this one corner on the TN side, we saw one barge pull in, then there was another and then another and another. It was like a tow convention. We checked the map and there was a channel back there for them where they could get to any one of 33 different loading docks. The channel was only about 200 feet wide. Am I glad we were on the other side of the river.
Tuesday, July 15, 2003.
River mile starting 720, ending 687. Odometer 32.4, moving time 4 hr 54 min, Total odometer 1037.04, max speed 9.4, moving average 6.6.
Last night was really humid and hot since there was only a small breeze. The mosquitoes seem to come out at 8:45 pm but then usually go away around 10 or 11pm. Last night they hung around all night. Before we went into the tent, John pulled the canoe up onto the sand so that about one eighth of it was sticking in the water. When he can not get the canoe to real high ground and there are no trees by the water, he frequently takes a big stick, digs a hole and puts the (big, heavy) stick about 2 feet into the ground. Then he ties the canoe up to the stick - just in case. Around midnight last night we both woke up and John looked out the tent and said "the canoe is floating". Sure enough, the water level had come up enough that the entire canoe was in 2-3 inches of water. We listened to the weather radio and they give the river level and the forecast level. We always put the tent up on high ground and the canoe too. We were fine but the canoe was floating. The river probably rose about a foot. John always puts a little stick in the sand at the shoreline just so we know in the morning if it rose or not and if we have to get up during the night, we can check the water level.
We stopped at a sandbar today for a break and there was a leatherback turtle, about 10 inches in diameter, laying eggs. John took its picture but otherwise we left it alone. When we first started out today we had 3 tows pass us from behind, going downstream and there were 4 tows that passed us going upstream. That was our excitement for the day. It was quite windy to start (10-15 mph out of the SW) and those tows made it a real challenge. Those were the last we saw for the day however.
We thought that after Memphis we wouldn't see much of civilization anymore. Well from about 10 miles in the distance (and 35 miles south of Memphis) we saw what looked like a high rise. As we got closer, there were other buildings as well and we think it was part of a casino. Just a little ways down was another extravagant building that looked like a castle. Since we didn't need any water, we didn't stop. But it was certainly a surprise to us to see that.
Wednesday, July 16, 2003.
River mile starting 687, ending 655. Odometer 33.3, moving time 5hr 7min, Total odometer 1070.4, max speed 9.7, moving average 6.5.
It was cool and windy last night - quite wonderful and early this morning it was cloudy. We love it. It seems we always start out in choppy water. We had the wind most of the day, but the river was calm for a while later on. But to start it was that windy chop. Nevertheless, it was a nice paddling day. We planned to stop at Helena for some water and as we approached, we saw a fisherman. He zoomed ahead of us but he (they) went toward the shore we were going to have to go to. We asked if they knew where we could get water and they didn't know, except there was a gambling boat right across the river. So we thanked them and paddled on. About a minute later the guy yells over to us that his truck is in the harbor and they'd be happy to give us a ride to the grocery store to get water. So we said OK. It turned out to be a guy, maybe 25 and his Dad. They were commercial fishermen, catching catfish. They had a contract to supply 150 lbs of filets per week. So they catch them, take them home and filet them. The son, Mike, took John to city hall to get water and the dad went back to do something with the boat, or fish or something. Just as John and Mike got back the Dad came back and he showed us the 30# catfish that he just caught. They said the biggest fish they ever caught was a 75# catfish.
Southern Hospitality reigns here on the river. The Dad said "we'll take you anywhere you want to go and it won't cost you nothin'". These people are so thoughtful and considerate. We are pretty lucky to keep running into such nice folks exactly when we need them.
A couple of days ago we saw a loose green barrel (buoy) floating in the current. A barge must have hit it. Today we saw another one, a green one, just floating nicely down the channel. John wanted to go over there and tie some bright blue plastic on it so we would recognize it if we saw it again. Actually I didn't think it was a good idea as these buoys are very heavy and they are about 5 feet tall. It was on the far side of the river and by the time we got across the river over by it, we had passed it and it never caught up to us. We tried just sitting there and floating, thinking it would catch up to us but we were actually floating at 4.5 to 5mph.
The heat index got up to 100 today. There was a wind but it was hot.
River mile starting 755, ending 723. Odometer 32.8, moving time 5 hr 12 min, Total Odometer 1103.22, max speed 9.9, moving average 6.3.
We had a very hot night last night. Also a million mosquitoes came out about 8:45 so we couldn't go outside to enjoy the slight coolness out there. It's amazing how hot it is inside of the mosquito netting on the tent windows. I fear tonight will be more of the same. They said the heat index for today was 105. John didn't think it was that bad but I did.
We tried something different today. Since we both have golf umbrellas we decided to coast and sit in the shade of our umbrellas. It was really cool when the wind caught the umbrella. We were going anywhere from 4 to 5.5mph without paddling. Usually we would stay in the channel but sometimes we would get pulled over to the backwater and then have to paddle back. There were very few tows today and not too much wind so it worked nicely.
In the afternoon there were storms on either side of us. Some of the lightning was spectacular. So we pulled over and set up the tent and got a shelter up. It rained a little but not very much. All in all it was a quiet, calm day today.
Friday, July 18, 2003.
River mile starting 623, ending 588. Odometer 37, moving time 7 hr 13min, Total odometer 1140.25, max speed -10, average 5.1.
We started out taking it easy. We decided to coast most of the way today. We started out later so that we don't wind up at a campsite so early in the afternoon when it is so hot. It's cooler to be on the water especially since we have started coasting while using our umbrellas for shade. Our coasting speed remains between 4 to as fast as 5.3 mph. One time I looked and we had reached 6mph.
The river is really high. Where there are supposed to be sandbars (as per the map) there aren't any or they are quite small. We are also seeing many trees in the water. Today we say 2 buoys that disappeared under the current. Only to reappear after a minute or so. It's either because the current is so strong or else defective buoys. As long as we're not above them when they come up, it's quite amusing.
A boater drove over to us today. He just stopped to ask how we were doing. He had met another canoer a week ago and that canoer had told him someone else was coming a week after him. So the guy was wondering if we were those people. He told us that over the years he has met many people who have canoed, kayaked and rafted down the Miss.
As we got nearer to our camping spot for the night, we noted that there was little sand where we expected it, so we got out of the channel to check out some sand way off. As we approached, we could hear a wing dam. It sounds like a waterfall, but couldn't detect it right off. Plus we have gone over some of these without too much of a problem. So, too late, we saw it and didn't have a choice, the current was such that we had to go over it. It didn't look too bad so John picked a quiet spot. We got all lined up, like shooting some rapids. And holy cow!! When we got close enough I almost had a heart attack. Usually there are just ripples in the water and some choppy waves. These waves were at least a foot high. I couldn't believe it. We ripped through there and dropped about a foot and immediately after getting through, the water just grabbed the canoe and pulled us off to one side. Which wasn't too terrible, as I was so surprised we actually got through in one piece. I didn't even take on water over the bow although some came in over the sides. We got going in the right direction again, searching out sandbars. We heard another wing dam. This one didn't seem as bad; we could see it better than the first one, but as we went over it we scraped over a rock. Everything was ok though.
We went through a lot of scum today. It's white foamy ugly stuff. We stopped at one place where the scum had piled up. When the wind blew, it actually blew that scum over the sand like tumble weed.
Saturday, July 19, 2003.
We took the day off from canoeing and stayed in the same place today. When we finally found a place yesterday, we looked for a high area and put the tent up on a small plateau which was near the water on a low sand bar. We always put sticks out now to keep track of how high the water is when we go to bed.
John was up and down all night watching the river - I never woke up. But at 4:30 he woke up and said that the water was getting pretty close to the tent and the little plateau we were on was completely surrounded by water . It also started blowing and raining at that time. It was time to move, so we packed everything up inside the tent; John transferred that stuff to our bins and when the wind died down, we left the tent set up and just picked up the tent and walked through knee deep water back a couple hundred yards to really higher ground. John put the bins in the canoe and we paddled over to our new site, since the original site was surrounded by water. As I write this (4 in the afternoon) we can still see our original site but the area that is above the water is about the size of the tent footprint. After listening to the river forecast, it's supposed to start going down, but it's up a couple inches already today.
This morning we needed water and from the map we knew there was a state park about a mile inland from where we were camped. It appeared from the map that we could cross over the sand bar, penetrate the tree line and the park should be there. We had seen what appeared to be an observation tower the day before as we were looking for a place to camp for the night. We took off hiking in the direction of where we saw the tower. As we approached the tree line from the sand bar, we saw that the high water had created a channel about 250 feet wide between the sand bar and the tree line. However John wouldn't let that stop him. John looked for a reasonable place to cross the channel where it was wide enough so the current was not too swift. He found a spot and gave it a try. The water went about waist high plus he said that there was quite a current out where it was the deepest. He made two trips so as not to risk loosing all our water containers in case he stepped into a hole. All went well and we replenished our water supply. He said that it was really a nice park set back about a quarter mile from the tree line and that very few people were camping there.
The only bad part was we had to carry the four full containers of water a long way to get back to the campsite.
They cancelled the heat advisory today because with the clouds out it's not supposed to quite get to 90.
Sunday, July 20, 2003.
River mile starting 588, ending 567. Odometer 21.1, moving time 5hr 8min, Total odometer 1161.33, max speed 9.6, moving average 4.1.
We had another day of floating, only today it was harder to find the fast current and stay in it. But it was still fun. It stayed cloudy for most of the morning. When the sun came out we just got out our umbrellas and coasted down the river. The place that we stopped for lunch had many many butterflies. There were the larger variety, the size of the Monarch, and then the smaller variety. The bigger ones were huddled together on the ground while the smaller ones were scattered about individually on the ground. When we came in and put our chairs down near them, the smaller ones came over and sat on us and all of our stuff. One time I probably had about 10 of them on me. When we got up to leave, there was a flurry and a flutter of butterflies. You could feel the whoosh of their wings as they flew around your head. We got in the canoe and there were about a dozen or so that decided to come with us. After a while they all finally left.
About 2:30 in the afternoon, it started to get cloudy again and it started to thunder ( we never did see any lightning). We decided to paddle across the river to a neat sandbar for the night. It never did rain and it quit thundering.
The tows go right by where our tent is. We'll probably have their search lights shining on the tent during the night. Interestingly enough, the tows operate at night. They have these huge spotlights that they use to find the channel markers and watch the shore line as they navigate the river at night.
Our tent site tonight is quite high, about 12 feet above the water line and we're way out in the open so if there is any breeze, we'll feel it. The river seems to finally be going down a little. There are still a lot of trees out in the water. We also saw another tow of 7 x 7 barges, although not a record, it ties the record.
Monday, July 21, 2003.
River mile starting 567, ending 540. Odometer 27.6, moving time 4hr 55min, Total odometer 1188.91, max speed 8.8, moving average 5.6.
We decided that we would mostly paddle today instead of coast. A good thing because for a while we were in a terrible head wind. After a while, the river widened quite a lot, the wind was not as strong and shifted to a quartering wind from behind. We did coast, as high as 7mph. That's partly because we could use our umbrellas as sails.
The high point for the day was lunch. In the middle of nowhere John tried the cell phone and discovered that we had Sprint cell service. So he made some Grandma business calls. Shortly before we reached our camp site for the night, the river was very wide again and 2 big tows went by us going upstream. You would therefore expect quite a wake. But there was like nothing. Just some very gentle rolling waves. It's all very odd how the river is so different all the time. The channel depth, width, current speed, type of tow, number of barges, how they are loaded, etc all make a big difference on what the wake is like from the tows.
Some fishermen stopped at our camping spot not very long after we got here. They were there only long enough for a nature call and to drink a beer of two as we talked. We're about 3 miles from Greenville so we questioned them about it. One thing they did say was that we should be careful as we're going through Vicksburg and Natchez because of the layout of the river and the city; that the waves can be terrible sometime - if the tows are going through.
John fiber glassed his paddle tonight. There was a big crack where the shaft meets the paddle. It would be a bad thing if his paddle broke. He did the repair in steps so he had to mix up 3 batches of fiberglass to get it done.
The heat index here today was 108. Tomorrow we are supposed to get storms; a 60% chance.
Tuesday, July 22, 2003.
River mile starting 540, ending 532 (plus 10 miles dead water on Lake Ferguson). Odometer 19, moving time 3hr 54min, Total odometer 1207.94, max speed 8.8, moving average 4.9.
Today we went to Greenville. It was only a mile to the channel but then we had to paddle 5 miles back on Lake Fergusen - with no current - to get to the city. We also had to pass a bunch of docks with lots of barges and towboats, but most of them weren't moving. It was a quiet uneventful trip to the city. The major excitement along the way was watching these quite huge fish jump out of the water. Many were 3 feet long. They would go straight up out of the water, some would go sideways, some would do flips, some would go straight up, and completely clear the water and then do tricks. We asked somebody and he said they were Spoonbills. Not very good eating, just fun to watch.
We found the Greenville Yacht Club without a problem. The hard part was trying to figure out how to get off their very large dock. We finally found someone and asked him. There was no one where we docked the canoe. John hit a buzzer and a voice came on and said we should walk up to the building; they assumed we knew how to get there.
We talked to these people to find out where the grocery store was and this one old guy drove us there; it was about 6-8 blocks. Unfortunately he couldn't wait, so we had to walk back carrying several bags of groceries.
Back at the Yacht Club, we talked to the manager and he told us that New Orleans has a place where we should be able to take out the canoe on Canal St. Good news as we weren't really sure where we would be taking the canoe out.
We killed ourselves paddling out in that dead water the 5 miles back to the river. You really have to work when there is no current. We were struggling to maintain 4.5mph. Back on the river we were coasting at 4mph. Except for 5 minutes of light rain, we never did get any of the storms they were forecasting for today.
We saw an opossum. It just sort of ambled through our campsite and when it saw us, it just kept on walking like we weren't even there.
Wednesday, July 23, 2003.
River mile starting 532, ending 502. Odometer 31.6, moving time 5hr 45min, Total odometer 1239.56 max speed 9.3, moving average 5.5.
We had a wonderful coasting day today. The river was really wide in the morning and we weren't bothered much by the tow waves but we also didn't coast very well in the current. In the afternoon, the river narrowed so the current picked up plus the wind started blowing from the north. With our umbrellas open as sails, the slowest speed we maintained was 5mph and we got as high 7.9. We were flying!!
Shortly after leaving our campsite we crossed under the Hwy 28 bridge. Immediately after that, there was a large structure in the water - John thought that they might be putting in a whatever for new bridge supports. That area had a barge around it and on the barge were 2 cranes. They were each reaching into this casement and pulling out shovels full of dirt and then bringing them over and dropping them into the river. It was so cool because of the weight of the dirt, when they'd drop them, the water would splash up 15 feet high. We could only watch for a short time because the current kept pushing us downstream.
Tonight our camping area is in Louisiana. I can't believe that we have paddled all the way down from Minneapolis to the state of LA. This is a neat site as it has some natural shade from the trees. There is such a difference between being in the shade of a tarp and being in the shade of a tree. The sun is starting to rise a little later each day now. Tomorrow it rises at 6:10 and sets at 8:11 tonight. The later it rises and the sooner it sets means less time we have to spend in the sun. Today it only got to 84 and the dew point was only 65 (as compared to a usual dew point of 78). But being in that sun is just tough no matter what the temperature.
I haven't talked about mosquitoes much. On these sand bars they are non-existent, until about 8:15 to 8:30PM. Even if you go into the woodsy areas there are no mosquitoes to be found during the day. But you better be in your tent before that 8:15 pm when they come out, because they come out in droves. Should we have to get up in the middle of the night - for bathroom purposes - sometimes they are gone, especially if there is a wind. Or sometimes they are as ferocious as ever. John sometimes gets up around 5AM (our alarm goes off at 6:30) and they are completely gone by that time.
Thursday, July 24, 2003.
River mile starting 502, ending 470. Odometer 33, moving time 5hr 34min, Total odometer 1272.6, max speed 9.6, moving average 5.9.
Another day on the river. It's hard to believe that we are nearing the end. The river was very calm today. Barely even any ripples. When the tows went through, all we got were beautiful long rolling waves. We stopped for lunch on this sandbar that had about 100 white pelicans on it. We tried to approach slowly so John could take their picture, but eventually they all flew off. We were close enough that you could hear the sound of their wings when they took off. You could almost feel how hard it was for them to start flying. It was so cool just to watch them.
It was a quiet day today. Very hot, not too humid and the river forecast keeps saying the river should go down about 6 in. Every day. Connely, the manager at Greenville Yacht Club said that the river is about 8 feet higher than normal.
Friday, July 25, 2003.
River mile starting 470, ending 444. Odometer 26.4, moving time 4hr 20min, Total odometer 1299.01, max speed 9.1, moving average 6.1.
We started off with a very calm river. It was a cool day, but not much current. After a while, the current picked up somewhat and so did the wind, in our face - but it is very cooling. One time as we were paddling along these 2 white pelicans went cruising by right in front of us. They were probably about 3 feet above the river and 20 feet in front of us. It just looked neat because they seemed to do everything in unison. Fly at the same time, soar at the same time. It was very pretty to watch. Except for that, not much happened.
To me, the river seems wider and perhaps deeper, because we don't seem to have much trouble with the wake from the tows anymore. Once we see them, John figures out if they will be going down the red barrel line or the green line (i.e. which side of the channel they will be on) and more importantly if they will be turning. We don't want to be behind them when they turn so we go to the other side of the channel where we will be out of their way if they turn. So far it's been working well.
We did go over a wing dam today which I hate. Right before you go over it you go into this depression (depression in the water, not mental depression). And at that time if you weren't aware that this thing in front of you was a wing dam, you know it now. After you get through the "whirligigs" and the somewhat turbulent water, then it's ok.
The weather is getting more humid again. Tomorrow we will be going to Vicksburg, MS. We have cell coverage tonight!
Saturday, July 26, 2003.
River mile starting 444, ending 433. Odometer 11.4, moving time 1hr 53min, Total odometer 1310.41, max speed 9.1, moving average 6.
We got up and headed for Vicksburg. As we rounded the corner there was a tow that seemed to be not moving. As we got closer, a smaller refueling tow that had been alongside of it started moving away from the big towboat. We were stuck next to the shore and the big towboat started his engines and was about to leave. We were in a bad place with nowhere to go so we just sat there. There was hardly any current so we weren't moving much. We wanted him to get out of the way because his prop wash was going to be coming our way. So he left and finally we proceeded along the shoreline. I put the skirt on the bow, expecting to take on water but we didn't have any trouble. There was some rocking and rolling but nothing like I had expected. The reason was that the small tow had been refueling the big towboat and the big towboat had his engine off. That means that all the waves and turbulence that we would have been paddling into if he had had his engine on while moving up the river, were not there. Once we got past his initial waves there was nothing else. It was fairly calm.
We did not go up the Yazoo River to the Vicksburg boat ramp but instead stayed on the Mississippi and stopped at a very small sandy beach right by the Isle of Capri Casino. We got water, then we found out that we could get a ride on a shuttle bus up this horrendous hill and then just past that a little ways was the Isle of Capri RV Park. They run a free shuttle from the casino to the RV park. John talked to the lady driver and she was more than happy to give us a ride as far as the RV park and then told us to wait there on our way back and she'd give us a ride back to our canoe. Which we did.
We got back to the canoe, made some phone calls (we're in Sprint territory), and then we went back to the casino for their lunch buffet. Very good.
We only paddled another 4 miles or so to this sandbar and here we are. As we were heading this way, a Seadoo zoomed past us and wouldn't you know it, they stopped at the sandbar we were planning to stay at. But we decided to go there anyway. They were 2 very nice guys, Mark and Jamie, about in their mid to late 20's. They are from this area and Jamie gave us his phone number in case we have any problems while in the area. He has a big boat as well and could come and get us in short time. These guys were really nice and we talked a long time about anything and nothing. They did mention that there are alligators around here but they are more afraid of people than we are of them. Also they usually stay back in the calm waters and where it is cooler - not out on the hot sandbars. Whew.
Sunday, July 27, 2003.
River mile starting 433, ending 410. Odometer 22.8, moving time 3hr 40 min, Total odometer 1333.25, max speed 9.3, moving average 6.2.
Last night as we were getting ready to go into the tent, there were all these birds - we think they were swallows - across a small channel in the trees over there. Then they started flying – EVERYWHERE, and they came from everywhere. For at least half an hour, we had so many birds flying all around us, the sky was dark with birds. It was like they would fade a little and then they would come back full steam with more birds than before. It was so amazing. They kept it up till a little past dark and then roosted in the trees around us. I never saw them leave in the morning although I heard them.
Today was a tow day. We probably passed about a dozen tows. They weren't much of a problem. Except this one time we were in some choppy water as the tow was passing us and this idiot with a big power boat came zooming right between us and the barges. That got a little exciting.
We did go past this area along the river that those 2 guys, Mark and Jamie were telling us about. It's a place where there were probably about 15 cranes. They make oil rig drilling platforms for the Gulf. When they're done, they just float them down there. It was quite amazing to see all those cranes sitting there.
There were 2 records hit today as far as barges go. The record was 7x7 for 49 barges. Today we saw a tow that had 50 barges. He had 6 in front and 8 long ways, plus there were 2 extra barges attached near the towboat. And, 8 is the longest number of barges we have seen lengthwise so that was the 2nd record. It happened on the same tow.
Monday, July 28, 2003.
River mile starting 410, ending 397. Odometer 23.1, moving time 4hr 40min, Total odometer 1356.4, max speed 9, moving average 5.
A quiet day. Not too many tows. We did run into an area of a lot of wind but then after we turned the corner it was gone. It was very hot this morning already, and humid of course. In the afternoon, as we were looking for a campsite, John saw a neat sandbar and said we should go over there. As we were paddling over there, it just started to rain. Thirty seconds later it was a downpour. We got to the shore and as luck would have it there was a nice little cove so we went in there and got out our umbrellas and just waited for the rain to pass. As we were waiting, the wind came up so strong that with our umbrellas to push against, the wind started pushing us back out of the cove. We got readjusted but we were sure lucky we weren't on the river at that time.
It's just been raining on and off a little and we keep hearing thunder. The good news is that it has cooled off for hopefully the rest of the night.
John was digging back in the forest, to bury our garbage and accidentally he dug up where a turtle had laid its eggs. One was cracked and so he opened it and there inside was a teeny tiny turtle. He put the other eggs back.
Tuesday July 27, 2003.
River mile starting 397, ending 371. Odometer 17.1, moving time 4hr 3min, Total odometer 1373.49, max speed 8.1, moving average 4.2.
You can tell from the average that we did a lot of coasting today. We knew we weren't going to paddle very far so we took it easy. Tomorrow we go to Natchez to get water and groceries. Always a big day.
Today we stopped at a sandbar and there was a dead dog on the shore. It was the size of an otter and that's what we thought it was, but no. It didn't have a collar on either. While on that sandbar, there were all those birds squawking and flying everywhere. So John decided they probably had laid some eggs back from the shore a ways. We walked back there and sure enough, there were single brown eggs laying here and there out in the open. They sort of blended in with the sand; you really had to look to see them. John took a picture of one and then we left. Also on that same sandbar John spotted a deer.
We are camped on the LA side tonight. We started over on the MS side at this pretty cool sandbar point. It had a nice approach to get to it, but as you looked up a little ways to the end of the point, the water was just rushing past that end. I walked over there to look and the current was so swift coming along from the other side of that point. Actually this was supposed to be a peninsula, but since the water is so high, it's an island. I walked up to the top to see what it looked like from there. It was about 8 feet up and on the top there was a sheer wall going down into that rushing water. Since it was all sand, you couldn't get too close to the edge because you could see how the wall was eroding into the river. We decided to come over here to the LA side because there was more shade over here.
We are having some trouble with our most wonderful tent that has gotten us through so many storms and terrible winds without us ever getting wet. The zippers aren't working as they should. We have had it for many years and it has gotten so much use; but we're going to have to get a new one. We have 2 doors, one on either side. And for both of them, sometimes when you zip it, the zippers don't stay together. Up until 8:15 at night that's not a problem. But those mosquitoes just swarm all over our tent at that bewitching hour and you need those doors completely closed. Unfortunately I wrecked my side at one spot. We also (hopefully) determined that if we don't have as much pressure pulling against the doors that the zippers work easier. We'll try that tonight. Now when we go into the tent, we take the duck tape with us.
Wednesday, July 30, 2003.
River mile starting 371, ending 355. Odometer 16, moving time 2hr 47min, Total odometer 1389.45, max speed 8.2, moving average 5.7.
Today we went to Natchez to resupply. This should be our last grocery stop. We'll still have to get water but we shouldn't need any more food. None of these places have any kind of a dock associated with their boat ramps. Today we stopped about 100 ft before the ramp and we stayed on the revetment. John had to take everything out of the canoe and we put the canoe upside down on top of everything.
Much of the banks of the river have revetment on them. It's a stone wall to keep the bank from eroding away. It's generally 10 to 30 feet up the bank, but nothing has been done to the bank. They have just put rocks on it. When you get to the towns, besides having their river bank with revetment on it, once you get over that, they have levees. These they have fashioned into symmetrical form and they can get pretty high. As high as 30 to 100 feet in the big cities. Only about 30 feet high in the rural areas. Some levees have rocks on top of them, some poured cement, some just dirt with grass growing over the dirt.
Natchez had a levee that was incredibly high and we decided to take a cab to the grocery store. It was a good choice. It cost us $8 each way but was well worth it. We got some frozen meat today and John got some beer so we bought an 8# bag of ice. We don't have anything to put the ice in so we just used many plastic bags. It was so hot today - still is. John got to have the ice in front of him, down by his ankles so he was nice and cool and I got a little baggie with ice in it and I put it on top of my head and then put my hat on and it was great!
Tonight we are camping on revetment, but in this small area the sand has taken over. It's quite nice sand too. We also got to watch a sand wasp. They are quite unique. They make a hole in the sand kind of like an ant hill, but the hole is a little bigger and doesn't have the little "ant hill" around it. Then the wasp goes forward into his hole and after 15 to 60 seconds, he backs out with a tiny ball of sand. He walks back about 6 inches, deposits this tiny ball next to all the other tiny balls of sand and goes back and does it again. There was only one wasp there and when he decided to leave, he flew once or twice around his little hole and was off. We aren't sure if he came back or not.
Thursday, July 31, 2003.
River mile starting 355, ending 326. Odometer 29.9, moving time 4hr 57min, Total odometer 1419.36, max speed 9.2, moving average 6mph.
It was a most odd day today. For one thing, the current generally seems to be slower. Especially when we want to coast. We saw 2 more tows with 49 barges. The first one, we saw down a ways and decided to go over and wait at a sandbar. His wake was quite ferocious. We let the worst of it die, then started paddling. The waves from that 49er were still very apparent. In fact at times they were crazy. We could see off about a quarter of a mile still ahead of us where the waves were actually breaking. (usually they're just rolling waves), and breaking in large areas of the river - most unusual. This was accompanied by the big rolling waves which are easy to maneuver. We did miss those breaking waves, by paddling around them, but still don't know why that occurred. We suspect that it must have been a very shallow shelf in that area.
We passed a number of tows, all quite a bit smaller than that big one, but we still had quite a time with waves. There were definitely more waves than we usually encounter plus they seemed to be lasting so much longer; that is, after we paddled for a mile or two they were still popping up out of nowhere. We also hit a very windy section for a couple miles.
After about 20 miles, we finally found a fast current and were paddling at about 8mph. The wind came up behind us so we put up our umbrellas, wanting to coast and then a stupid tow was headed our way. Another 49er. So we pulled across to the other side where there was a sand bar; although we didn't plan to stop there. However one of the buoys must have broken away and was stuck in the sand and we went that way (we didn't know it was a rogue buoy) and we got grounded. We came to a complete halt. So we jumped out of the canoe and pulled it a little way, got back in and were off - in about a foot and a half of water. John grumbling the whole time that we had to leave 8mph current to paddle in this dead water and we would be dealing with the tow's waves in just a couple minutes.
At last we get out into some real water, the waves are big and rolling, so that's OK but then there is another tow headed our way. We need to get away from this sandbar so we decide to cross over to the other side of the river, realizing that we will be going through the prop wash from that last 49er. And indeed we did. I am naturally getting really nervous because we are out in the channel but we can't cut directly across because the waves are at such an angle that we have to keep hitting them a certain way so as not to get swamped. Finally we can start crossing and we look up and over and there we see all these waves breaking ahead; just like with the last big tow. Only this time we have to go through it. It is a good thing I had the skirt pulled way up or we would surely have taken on water. I was holding on to that skirt for dear life. We went through 3 waves that John thought were probably 3 feet high, we only took on minimal water. At last we got across out of the channel so that the tow wouldn't hit us. I'm sure he wouldn't have anyway since he was staying on the other side of the channel, but you don't want to mess around with a tow. The wind came up behind us, so we got out the umbrellas, but then it really started to blow. A front was going through. The sky looked threatening all over, but we didn't have time to look. The wind was quartering us from behind. It was blowing hard. I could only paddle on the left, John only on the right. We switched once, but it just didn't work. We must have been half a mile from a place to land. We sprinted to the nearest point to land as the winds were gusting at least over 40 miles per hour and the waves were getting bigger. The place we landed wound up to be a really neat sandbar and that is where we are camping tonight. It rained a little. Quite a bit of thunder, but that's about all. It was very intense for a while but we made it.
Later on, the Coast Guard came by as we were watching the river here at our campsite. They are the ones who place the buoys to mark the channel. John thinks they made the channel about 100 yards narrower by moving all the buoys over. I guess if you can't get out and dredge, you change the size of the channel. They go down the river on their Coast Guard Boat that is designed for installing channel buoys. They have a new buoy with a cable on it and a big block of cement. When they get to the correct spot, they push it over the side. Then they back up to retrieve the old buoy. They have a winch and they grab the buoy with the cable and cement on it and hoist it into the boat. If the buoy is in good repair they use it for the next drop. I was noticing today that in some spots of the river you see one buoy in about 1 mile of river, and you're lucky if you see any day markers. Day markers are on the shore periodically to indicate what river mile you are at. On the northern part of the river; from Minneapolis to St Louis there were buoys and day markers all over the place. Not so down here. They always have buoys when the channel turns, because the tows need to know where they can turn. Glad they are there as we need to know where to go to avoid the tows.
Friday, August 1, 2003.
River mile starting 326, ending 298. Odometer 26.8, moving time -4hr 50nmin, Total odometer 1446.21, max speed 8.9, moving average 5.5.
Today was a hot day. The current was moving better although at times it seemed we were in no current at all. We went past some big cement structures that we are pretty sure were dams. It appears that where the Mississippi used to flow and doesn't anymore, that those places are now independent lakes. But this place with the dam is listed on the map as the Old Mississippi River and it flows into the "real" Mississippi. Except that they dammed it up for some reason. It is John’s guess that it must have something to do with maintaining the flow in the main channel. They had signs that you are not supposed to go into that area plus they had this most atrocious warning sound, to keep you away.
We had another sort of bad storm tonight. There was thunder and lightning all around us plus the sky was getting purple black and then it got that really odd yellow gray color and John looked up, way high in the sky, and saw what looked like a funnel cloud. Usually you associate funnel clouds with being black, but this was that odd gray color and the oddest thing I have ever seen. It certainly wasn't near land at all, it was way high, but quite scary none the less.
The lightning was getting more awesome so we went into the tent. Then the wind started to blow. It almost sounded like a freight train, but the sound was coming from the sound of the trees across the river. Our few trees were moving but not making much noise and our tent was not getting much of the brunt of the wind. The river started making "wave" sounds. It was too dark to see anything, but you could just hear the waves building and hear as they hit the shore. There had been whitecaps out there earlier; from the sound of it, they were worse. After 15 minutes the wind died, the thunder and lightning stopped and we never did get any rain.
Saturday, August 2, 2003.
River mile starting 298, ending 274. Odometer 25.5, moving time 5hr 2min, Total odometer 1471.71, max speed 8.6, moving average 5.1.
Another very hot day. They just said that the heat index was 99, but it seems hotter than that. Sometimes we're lucky and the sun is blocked by clouds, but not this afternoon. We do hear thunder off in the distance, but that's nothing new.
We only passed a few tows today and the river acted more like normal. No crazy waves. The current still does not seem as fast. When the water would go by the buoys, it would practically knock them over; now it's just kind of a loud rippling noise and they move just a little.
Sunday, August 3, 2003.
River mile starting 274, ending 259. Odometer 14.3, moving time 2hr 36min, Total odometer 1486.03, max speed 7.9, moving average 5.5.
I see moving time was only 2 and a half hours today. It felt like we were paddling in that blazing hot sun all day long. It is getting so blooming hot out. The heat index at 2 pm was 101. We paddled 7 mi today and stopped to get water at the Oyster Bar. John had called there last night to make sure the place existed. They don't open until 3PM on Sunday but the lady gave John perfect directions to their place. They had a hot and cold running faucet in a big sink that was outside the building that she said that he could use. The short way to get there was through Bayou Sara; a bayou being like a chute going off the big river. So we thought we'd try that although the lady said that the bank would probably be too steep (and muddy) to climb. As we are paddling back there, in this really muddy water, I said to John, as we paddled past a log "there's an alligator". John turned around and looked and said "that IS an alligator. Quick, let's go back and take its' picture". As we turned around and John got out the camera, it just sort of slunk right out of sight. I had my eye on him, but John said there were a couple more smaller ones. The big one was about 5 feet. John wanted to rush right back in further to look for more alligators but I would have been the one watching the canoe while he went for water and there is no way that that was going to happen. So we went back out into the river and stopped by the ferry landing.
John hiked along the road to the Oyster Bar and got 2 containers of water. He was about to go back and get 2 more when one of the workers from the ferry yelled out and asked if we wanted water. We showed him the 2 jugs and he said they'd be back in half an hour. They run a very timely ferry and were back in 30 min. John filed the last two containers from the water supply they had on board and chatted with the crew for a few minutes before they had to leave to go to the other side of the river.
We stopped at a neat little sandbar for the night. It's quite small. As we now continue further south, it's getting more tough to find places to stay. The forecast is for the river to be going up for another day or two, but only a couple of inches each day. From here on, we have to find a places that have a high area to pitch the tent so we don't wake up in the morning and have the water at our door.
Monday, August 4, 2003.
River mile starting 259, ending 240. Odometer 19.3, moving time 4hr 32min, Total odometer 1505.35, max speed 7.1, moving average 4.3.
Yes, it continues to be hot. For the most part there was a breeze today which makes a huge difference. We took a little detour today to go into Thompson's Creek because John wanted to see some more alligators. Lucky for me we didn't see any. The creek seemed to have a current and was fairly wide. We'll be looking for smaller creeks as we go along, in search for those alligators.
I actually had an easy day today as I felt quite poorly. All I had to do was sit in the canoe and drink water; John did all the paddling. I feel much better now after resting all day and drinking water so I will be paddling again tomorrow. Tomorrow is the day we go through Baton Rouge. We are expecting to see tows parked everywhere, not to mention the ones that are moving. We are 10 miles out and already we can look a mile up the river and see all the barges parked alongside the shore.
We had an interesting experience on the way to our campsite. A tow was behind us and passed us but after he got about a mile ahead he slowed his engines. (bad sign). You never know what these guys are going to do. He just continued onward, but slowly. We decided to cross the river because our campsite was on the other side of the river; unfortunately being the same side of the river as the tow. Had things been working smoothly, he would have been out of site and on his way. But instead, we can see him up there, doing all kinds of crazy things. Turning in directions he shouldn't be; for a while we thought he might be going to park (right where we were going to camp). Then we thought he was maybe going to do a 180 and head the opposite direction. (One night there was a tow that did that exact same thing right in the middle of the river). Well all of a sudden he puts the engines in reverse and starts heading (backwards) our way. I'm ready to get out of there, but we are actually in a secure spot right smack near the shore. By this time, John has figured out that the guy screwed up. He just didn't make his turn correctly and was probably stuck. We waited around and finally after much maneuvering the tow got where he wanted to be and headed off away from us. We paddled up and got to our campsite.
As we were sitting here in the shade, watching the tows, another tow coming from the same direction that the other tow had come, did about the same thing as the first tow. He had a heck of a time making that turn. So I guess that means the Corps of Engineers should be out here dredging. In a canoe, we're only bothered if the water is less than a foot.
Tuesday, August 5, 2003.
River mile starting 240, ending 214. Odometer 24.5, moving time 4hr 23min, Total odometer 1529.82, max speed 7.8, moving average 5.6.
Today we went through Baton Rouge. The worst part was the first 5 miles we paddled after leaving our campsite. There were so many barges parked on both sides of the river, many being 6 to 8 deep. And of course to go with the barges are those trouble making little tows. It's their job to get all the barges arranged. They can go pretty fast too. We had to anticipate what they were doing and where they would be going. Plus, there was a big tow going through all of this and so the river was pretty riled up, but we made it OK. When we got to the city of Baton Rouge, there were still many barges parked everywhere, but somehow we got near the shore and this was inside all of the parked tows. It worked out well. I think that most of the tows going through that area went more slowly anyway and so the wakes weren't that bad.
We stayed next to the shore because we had to stop for water. We stopped at a casino and John scrambled up the bank to the parking lot and was met by a guard. He said since 9-11, the Office of Home Land Security put out a memo that said they could not allow any boats to stop anywhere along the shore line of Baton Rouge. So he would not let John proceed to the Casino to get water. The guard was over-reacting so we just went down stream a little ways. We stopped by the museum and John climbed up the hill, over the levy, over the tracks and went a couple blocks to the front entrance to the museum and got some water. He talked to a guard taking a smoke break on top of the levee and he had no problem with us being there. I got to guard the canoe while he was gone.
Baton Rouge has, right on it's shore in the middle of the city, this huge grandstand like about 300 yards long and about 30 steps 10 feet deep for sitting areas from top to bottom. I think it would be cool just to sit there and watch the tows go by. We are guessing it must be used for viewing water shows and fireworks although we are not sure. It may be there for some other reason(s).
Upon leaving the city we ran into the same problem as before the city; the little tows rearranging the barges. Once past that, the river became very quiet. Certainly not like I had anticipated. I think we'll be running into more staging areas for the tows as we go along, but hopefully not as many as we did near the city.
Wednesday, August 6, 2003.
River mile starting 214, ending 197. Odometer 17, moving time 3 hr 39 min, Total odometer 1546.84, max speed 7.1, moving average 4.6
I must write about last night. Around 4 PM it looked like a storm was coming on as the sky was dark all over and there was much thunder and lightning. It never did rain, but the air turned much cooler and the sun didn’t come out much anymore so it was quite pleasant. The mosquitoes seemed to think it was quite pleasant too because they showed up right around 6PM (normally they come about 8:15). So we quickly put everything away and set up the tent. We had been back by the trees and we came out right next to the water. We were good there until about 7:45 when they found us again. They swarmed our tent all night long, plus you could hear the constant hum of them buzzing, looking for a victim. They were gone around 6 AM.
At our campsite tonight it is very windy and I hope we don't have to put up with any mosquitoes. Today we had a great day of coasting. We put up the umbrellas and coasted between 3.8 to 5.5mph. The wind was 10 - 15 out of the SW. The river has been doing loop de loops, so when we turned from coming right into the wind, to going with the wind at our back, we had a wonderful time.
Today we saw our first ocean going vessel. It was not really too big. John thought it was a cargo ship. It moved so smoothly through the water. It appeared at first to not have any wake, but we did find ourselves paddling in long, rolling waves. We also passed 2 dredging operations today. For both, they had a big Corps of Engineers boat and it had an auger attached to it. The auger would go down into the sand, dirt, silt and just like a snow blower, it would eject the sand, dirt, silt and water into a huge pipe. The pipe was 4 or 5 ft in diameter and ran maybe 150 yards long, all the way from the ship to very near the shore. There at the shore was where the silt etc. was deposited and where the water came spraying out. Except for the fact that the water looked dirty, it looked like a neat fountain.
Thursday, August 7, 2003.
River mile starting 197, ending 172. Odometer 24.3, moving time 4hr 41min, Total odometer 1571.13, max speed 7.6, moving average 5.2.
Our day started at 4 AM today when there were just a few drops of rain. We sleep with the fly pulled up and away from the tent so any stray breeze can come our way. John went out and pulled the fly all the way down and tied it down. Good thing. We had a horrendous storm. It rained so hard. You could see the lightning and then hear the thunder and therefore determine that the storm was getting closer and closer. The wind was blowing like crazy and then it finally passed. We stayed nice and dry (not counting the 100% humidity always present - especially in the tent.)
Last night I made the fatal mistake of opening the door on my side of the tent and couldn't close it again. So right before the mosquitoes appeared, John was safety pinning my door back together and then we duck taped it from outside and inside. There weren't going to be any mosquitoes coming in our tent. John's door still works, if you do it a certain way.
We saw a couple more ocean liners again today. They are so sleek as they move through the water as compared to the tows that just lumber along. We had 2 bits of excitement today. We were going down the river and it was quite windy, the wind being at our back so we had our umbrellas out easily doing 5mph. Ahead of us were about 50 barges parked, maybe 4 or 5 deep and then John spotted a large tow (5 across, 6 or 7 deep) coming toward us. So we put down the umbrellas and started paddling. Then John noticed another barge coming toward us, even bigger than the first one, and they were basically neck and neck. We're stuck over where the parked barges are sitting. Then just to add a little excitement one of the little towboats that had been arranging the barges starts to move, but he just came out and left, not even coming our way.
We were just sitting waiting to see what would happen and the smaller of the 2 large barges took the lead. He was the one nearest to us. He revved
up his engines and then so did we. If he was going to be throwing off a wake we didn't want to be there. It worked out perfectly. He was blocking any wake we would have gotten from the larger tow and we got by fast enough that we hardly noticed any waves at all.
Right after lunch we decided to cross the river. It was very windy. We were going into this wind and there were whitecaps everywhere. When we got out in the thick of it, those waves were at least two feet high and these were just wind waves. It got to the point where I couldn't paddle. It throws off our rhythm in such a situation. John knows exactly when to paddle and when to wait. I had to make sure that skirt was in place. When the waves are so high, I have to hold it up in front, right in the middle otherwise the water splashes onto the skirt and gets too heavy and it falls into the canoe. We took on quite a bit of water, but there was a huge amount that the skirt caught and it got dumped off before falling into the canoe. It was about a half to three quarters of a mile across the river. After we got across, we stopped at a sandbar and baled out the canoe.
Around 6PM tonight there was suddenly a lot of thunder. Then it started to get dark so we quickly ran to put up the tent. We usually wait till later to put the tent up because otherwise it gets to be about 120 degrees inside. As we almost had it up, the wind started to really blow. We had our tarp up for shade and the wind was so strong that it ripped the tarp to shreds. The really worse part was that before we got the tent fly on, the wind was blowing so hard that the inside tent floor was covered with fine sand that was forced through the mosquito netting on the sides of the tent. There was literally a quarter inch of sand all over the entire floor of the tent. We have a tarp on the inside floor to protect the bottom of the tent, so a little later is was not much of a problem to take the tarp out to get most of the sand out.
When you think of a beach and you think of sand; that's not the kind of sand this was. Mississippi River sand can be very fine and it seemed like this sand had static electricity to it I think because it gets onto everything and just sticks to it. You can't brush it off. However, it beats mud any day of the week. It never did rain.
As I'm writing this, an ocean liner is going by. It is a sight to behold. They move so smoothly and quickly through the water.
Friday, August 8, 2003.
River mile starting 172, ending 149. Odometer 21, Moving time 4hr, 16min. Total odometer 1592.27, max speed 7.7, moving average 5.2.
We traveled a couple of miles, went under the "Sunshine Bridge" and then stopped at Weber Marine and John got some water. It seems everyone around here will not drink tap water. They made John use bottled water even though he said he'd be happy to take the water from the hose.
We moved onward to an area that had barges parked on both sides of the river. Millions of barges. We had so much excitement today it almost makes me want to puke. There are 2 kinds of towboats (in my point of view). The big ones with 2 or 3 engines that push the large configuration of barges and then the little towboats that zoom around and arrange all the parked barges. These small towboats will also push a small number of barges. We have since been introduced to what we call the tugboats. These look more like a regular boat and they help move the ocean liners and other stuff I guess and they also zoom around and have a huge wake. Then there are like the boats that hold 10 or 12 people and they use these to take people to and from places, or make deliveries of small stuff and supplies to the towboats and ocean liners. They are probably 20 to 25 feet long, zoom everywhere they go and have a huge wake. And now there is the ocean liner. BIG, fast, pretty quiet. The wake is not bad at all until it hits the shore. So picture all of these boats on the river, between all the parked barges, and we in our canoe are smack in the middle of it all.
The worst part is not knowing what those little tows are going to do. Usually you can figure out the big tows, the ocean liners stay right in the middle, the little zoomy boats do just that and usually watch out for us although we have to be careful of their wake. But those little towboats... Today in the middle of everything else there was a small towboat pushing about 6 barges and we were practically on shore and we swore he was heading right for us. Finally he turned off to go toward the middle of the river. They make things most difficult for us.
We had a very interesting day at lunch today. The canoe was on the shore, most of it out of the water and our chairs were set back about 12 feet from the water. All of a sudden the canoe starts floating and our chairs are in about an inch of water. And then after a minute all the water left again. It did this about 2 times and then suddenly a big fully loaded ocean liner came into view around the near by bend. You should have seen the waves then breaking at the shore! It is amazing the amount of water they displace and the fact that it happened at least five minutes before we ever saw him.
Saturday, August 9, 2003.
River mile starting 149, ending 128. Odometer 22, moving time 4hr 45min, Total odometer 1614.18, max speed 7.1, moving average 4.6.
We started off having 2 ocean liners breeze past us and we came to a fleeting area with lots of barges, but little activity. I thought we were going to have a peaceful kind of day. John called it a "boring kind of day". But our boring day only lasted about an hour. Then everyone was up and there were tows and tugboats and ocean liners and those little zoomy boats all over. Not as bad as yesterday however.
We are staying at a non-sandbar place tonight. There were some guys fishing and John asked if they thought it would be all right to spend the night here and they said "sure". It turns out to be an area that the Corps of Engineers made. It's for fishing and they have a lot of flood stage stuff all around in this area. It's got grass and rocks and should be fine. As we are getting closer to New Orleans, it gets a little harder each day to find a place. Plus much of the shore is taken up by wharfs and parked barges. Tomorrow will be our last night camping and it will be interesting to see where we wind up staying. After consulting and comparing 3 maps, John found the "9 mile boat ramp" which would put us about 12 miles from our destination.
Yesterday as we were getting organized on our sandbar these 3 young kids came down on 4 wheelers. Two of them were maybe 12 or 14 and the third one maybe 9 or 10. John was just talking to them and eventually they gave him a ride to the convenience store. They said it was a couple blocks away, but John said it was closer to half a mile. He said they were tearing along at top speed, going on the side of the levee, each trying to outdo the other. (there were only 2 four wheelers but 3 kids) . Then they went over the levee and dropped John off right smack in front of the place. John bought them some sodas and they were kind enough to bring him back. He said it was a real ride on the way back because he had filled one of our 2 and 1/2 water gallon jugs plus he had a 6 pack of beer and my soda.
Those kids called the place we were at "the beach". There were a few more people who came through on their 4 wheelers. The kids would go through there fast and when the adults would go through, they would go slowly. One guy came through and was talking to John and said that he worked at one of the grain elevators. He worked 12 hours a day. Three days on, 3 off. He said that when a ship comes in, they work 24 hours or whatever it takes to fill it and send it off. He said that they can fill one of those large cargo ships in 18 hours. That is amazing that they could do it that quickly as they are huge.
Sunday, August 10, 2003.
River mile starting 128, ending 105. Odometer 23.2, moving time 4hr 39min, Total odometer 1637.41, max speed 7.4, moving average 5mph.
As we were getting ready to load the canoe today a tow with maybe 12 barges came by and decided to park right in front of where we would be taking off. John indicated to him that we would be leaving and so he left us about 30 feet. I think they had to check the barges because the deck hands were out on the barges checking the cables and whatever else they do. The captain had his engine on slightly over idle and when we paddled past him, he must have put it in neutral. We got by without a problem but it's scary any time you get near the back where the engines are.
We were doing pretty good today because we were on the side of the river that didn't have too many parked barges. Then we ran into a tow who was headed right for us. He was pushing 3 barges. He was probably maneuvering them to put them in the right spot. So I freaked out and had John cross the river and wound up still in a fleeting area, but the bad part was we were in a windy part of the river. The waves were pretty crazy.
We stopped for lunch at a place that looked muddy but it was hard to walk on even on the shore. So we sat in the shade and watched the ocean liners go by. Right before lunch we saw 2 ocean liners with their anchors down and we paddled out to go around them and when we got past the first one we saw that there were actually 3 of them anchored in a row. It was neat. There was a tow coming right around the corner of the 3rd ocean liner and so we cut between ocean liner 2 and 3 and avoided that tow.
We also went past a ship building place and got to see them building 2 new ships. We also saw a Navy ship in dry-dock being repaired. If you thought these ocean liners were big when they're in the water, you should see them out of the water!!
Last night we were talking to a couple and the husband had worked on towboats most of his life. He had so many stories to tell. But he said if we turned on channel 67 of our marine radio we could listen to the tows talking to each other. Some of them were watching out for us. One time we heard one of them call the ocean liner that was headed toward us and he told the pilot of the ocean liner to watch out because there were some crazies in a kayak (there are a lot of people down here who don't know what a canoe is). The ocean liner pilot radioed back and said that he was keeping his eye on us.
We are camped at 9 mile point right next to a barge mooring area. There are no barges here now and hopefully we won't see any in the morning. There is just a small amount of sandy beach here; the willow trees come almost right to shore. So we are in some beautiful shade, there's a breeze and we're kind of hidden by the trees. It's great. Nine mile point is at river mile 105 and our exit point tomorrow is about river mile 95. We plan to get up at 4 AM and get organized in the tent - eat breakfast, fold up sleeping bags, our mattresses and have everything else completely ready to go so at 6 o'clock we can just get up, take down the tent, stuff it into a bin and be on our way.
Monday, August 11, 2003.
River mile starting 105, ending 95. I erased the other data. It was just under 10 miles to the point where we took the canoe out. We got up around 5:15 and were ready to go by 6:30. We ran into some barge and ocean liner traffic, but not a lot. We got to go by all the wharfs, some of them old and deteriorated, some in good working order. It was odd in that there were very few ships in, very little going on. All the information we had heard while on the river, about the fact that business is very slow in general because of the economy must be true. There was little going on.
Our plan was to stay on the left side of the river (which we did), watch for the Canal St Ferry (we saw it), then River Place (yes) then notice the church (it was there), look for the beige and green canopy and the paddle wheeler Natchez (there they were!) and our take out point would be some steps immediately past that. And YES!! Everything was exactly as it should be. Had it not worked out that way we may have had to travel to who knows where to take out the canoe.
As we pulled up to the steps we were greeted by a traveling musician playing a saxophone. He apparently plays his sax at that spot most every day, leaving his bag open for any tips. He played "row, row, row your boat…" as we paddled up to the steps. He came down to greet us and offer any help. There were a few more people coming and going who stopped to say hi.
We arrived before 9AM. There was plenty of time to get everything out of the water and the gear organized. John even got the tent and fly out and laid it on the rocks to dry. During all this time we got to listen to Tyrone play his saxophone as all the people walked by on the riverfront walk and also visit with his friend, Mike. Unfortunately Mike was going to have his leg amputated in a couple of days. We never got the history, but it was a sad thing as the guy had to have been only about 40.
Tracey and Chad arrived around 11 and we were off to find our motel. We stayed at a Holiday Inn Express just outside the French Quarter. We did tons of walking for the next 3 days and walked on every single street in the French Quarter at least twice. We went to the zoo, aquarium and IMAX. The zoo and aquarium are 6 miles apart and they have a deal where you can take a riverboat ride from the zoo to the aquarium and then back to the zoo again. That was really neat. John and I took a free Canal St. ferry boat ride and saw "Lewis and Clark" at the Imax while Tracey and Chad went on a swamp boat and plantation tour. The last day John and Chad drove down to Venice, the furthest point south in LA that a car can go and Tracey and I went on a walking tour of the Garden District and the cemeteries. We took 2 days to get home, stopping in St. Louis to see John's sister.
It was an incredible trip. It's so fun looking at all the pictures and remembering everything that happened. I was always apprehensive while on the river, not knowing what would happen to us next; but John thought of it as an adventure - which it was. It was part of the adventure to run into all that river traffic, the waves, the currents, the whirligigs, the wind, the wing dams, etc. It just took me a while to realize that.
It took me about 4 weeks before I got all my muscles working the way they were supposed to. We had some pretty sore days those first few weeks that we just had to work through.
The river above St. Louis, the part with the locks, had the most wildlife. It was so nice to see all the herons, eagles, turtles, snakes, deer, beaver and all the wild creatures. The current wasn't as fast so we had to work harder to get further down the river. The towns along the river were all beautiful. We wished we could have stayed longer and explore them. Since there were so many towns, there were many places to stop at if we needed food or water or anything. There were also many marinas above St Louis that we could stop at if we needed anything. Going through the locks presented no problem. Normally we didn't have to wait very long and sometimes the doors would be open and ready for us. Sometimes we would have a problem approaching, and/or leaving the locks - with unruly waves. Locking through was a piece of cake, a time to just sit back and rest.
The river after St Louis was different. Certainly the current picked up. But it became more of a river whereas in the northern section it was defined by the pools; that is the area between each lock is defined as a pool. These pools were sometimes more like lakes in that they were huge, but that's why you had all the wildlife associated with them. Past St Louis the river ran wild with nothing to slow it down. There were not as many animals and birds to see. There were also way less pleasure craft to have to deal with. There were quite a few fishermen. But the river itself had a different quality to it. Not anything you could touch or see, but something you could feel. After being on it for so long, it just became a part of you and you could notice that somehow it had changed from the river up by the locks. I loved the northern and the southern part. Both were changeable and could go from utterly calm and quiet to windy, fast and raging.
The worst part of the whole trip was the heat. Nearly everyday past St. Louis we had heat indices between 98 and 108. The dew point was frequently as high as the low 80's. We thought that storms, tornados, straight line winds, and hail might be a problem, but the only time we ran into a bad storm we were already in our tent. We had a few problems with wind, but nothing significant.
The best part of the trip were the people. They were all thoughtful, kind and considerate practically to a fault. They would all go out of their way to help us and they were all curious to know what we were doing and eager to give us helpful information.