Trip Reports


Report #1 (6/9/03)


Hi all,

This is the first report from our Mississippi River canoe trip.  We have been out for eight days and traveled about 210 miles so far.  We started at River Mile 814 which is just south of Lock #2 in Hastings.  We are now just a few miles south of Cassville, WI.  The travel is a little slower than we originally planned but we had no frame of reference to use in guesstimating what we could do daily.  The two biggest factors in our slower than expected pace are: the head winds and the time we spend at Locks.  Typically our best time to get through a lock so far has been about 15 minutes.  Our worst time so far has been 2 hours and 45 minutes.  We got stuck behind two 15-barge tows and just hung out until they got through.  It is not practical to try to portage around the locks for various reasons including how we housed our gear for the trip.  We are using Tote type bins that have latching lids to keep our stuff dry instead of using Duluth Packs as we would normally do if we planned to portage.  So far we have had 5 rain free days. Two days 50% rain and one day of steady rain all day.  The scenery has been great!! We have seen many Tow Boats and many with up to 15 barges (3 wide and 5 long), many Great Blue Herons, Bald Eagles, a couple deer, three water snakes and many, many turtles sunning themselves on rocks and limbs down in the water.  We are pleasantly surprised by how well we are handling the wake from the tows as our cargo including us is about 650 pounds.  The wake on the large (18-30 foot) pleasure craft is much worse than the tow boats.  We have been camping each night on sand bars and islands made from dredging the river.  The bugs have been from completely unbearable to nonexistent, it just depends on the area.  Last evening I sat out until 9 pm and was not bothered at all. This evening they are driving me crazy.  Pat and I are both fine but still dealing with sour muscles that have not canoed for a while.  We expect that in the next couple hundred miles our conditioning will improve.  For those who have sent us email, we will get to them as we can, please be patient.  Our cell coverage that we need to deal with email has been very unpredictable and spotty.  More to follow later.


John and Pat Dickinson


Report #2 (6/12/03):


Hi all.  We have received several emails asking about what kind of equipment we have and what our day is like, etc. So I thought I would attempt to respond to some of the questions.  If I miss yours, let me know and I will answer it next time.


Our canoe is an 18 foot fiberglass canoe made by Mohawk and it is a Jensen design.  It weighs about 65 pounds.  We use wide blade, bent shaft paddles which seem to be a little more efficient than the regular straight blade paddles.


All of our equipment which includes, tent, pots and pans, sleeping bags, clothes, food, stove, tarps, electronics, etc is housed in 4 Sterilite Ultra 25 gallon tote bins with latching covers. The bines are removable from the canoe but are strapped into the canoe when we are traveling. The bins provide rain protection for the equipment as well as providing additional buoyancy for the canoe.  We do occasionally take on water from large wind waves or the wake from large boats or Tows.  We have an Attwood hand operated bilge pump that is very useful to pump out large quantities of water quickly when needed.


We carry a Uniden Atlantis marine radio to use if we ever get into serious trouble.  In addition to containing the ability to get the National Weather service weather reports on the Atlantis, we can talk to the locks, tow boats and other boaters with a radio.  To date, we have only used the radio to get weather reports and talk to the locks when there is a lot of tow traffic at the lock when we approach.  If there is no traffic at the lock, we may or may not use the radio.  There is a pull cord at the outer wall of the locks that can be used by small craft to signal the lock master that lockage is desired.


We have a Garmin Etrex Legend hand held GPS that we use to keep track of our speed, average speed, distance traveled, etc.  We really do not require it for navigation as the River charts that we have are very good, not to mention that the main channel is marked by buoys so it is very difficult to get lost unless you are trying to take short cuts through some of the island channels off the main channel.


Pat keeps a journal each evening using a Compaq IPaq 3765 PDA with foldable keyboard.  We have AOL client software on the PDA so by hooking it to our Sprint cell phone, we can send and receive email.  I can also receive email on the cell phone directly but it is very cumbersome to reply.  Cell service has been a problem in that we are seldom in a service area.  All of our electronic equipment is rechargeable or operates on "AA" batteries.  We have a Powerline 4 Watt Solar Panel that we use to recharge the items or the "AA" batteries that power them.  We have had good luck with the panel since it does not need bright sun light to work effectively.


 With all of our equipment, we are fully self contained.  We can go for about 4 days before we need to re-supply water and we carry about 10 days of food.


Typically we get up at 6 am and have cereal or granola so we do not have to spend time cooking or doing many dishes in the morning.  We can eat, get ready, pack and be on our way by 7:15-7:30.  We paddle for about 1.5-2.0 hours and have a morning snack and break.  We usually stop around 11:30 for lunch which generally consists of peanut butter and jelly, bagels, fruit and/or fruit cocktail, pudding cups, and trail mix.  We have cookies, hard candy, baby carrots and the like to snack on while we paddle.  We generally stop for the day between 3-4 PM depending on how tired we are.  Our evening meal generally consists of some canned meat ( chicken, turkey, salmon, tuna, etc), a canned vegetable and carbos (pasta, stuffing, instant mashed potatoes).  We are usually in the tent by 8 PM as the bugs, if they are out at that site, tend to get bad at about that time.


We have been averaging about 26 miles per day and our average speed ranges from about 4.1 to 6.1 miles per hour depending on wind and current.  The maximum speed that we have hit so far is 6.6 miles per hour even though our total load in the boat is about 650 pounds.


We have been canoeing every day since we left, rain or shine. We plan on paddling every day unless the head winds are outrageous or there is lightning in our area.


More to follow later.


John and Pat Dickinson



Report #3 (6/16/03):


This is day 15 of the Canoe Trip down the Mississippi River.  We have just completed a little over 400 miles as of this date.  We are currently about 5 miles North of Burlington, IA.  We have had a few good days of favorable wind but the high temperatures and full sun take their toll by mid afternoon. The last couple of days we went a little over 30 miles each day so we are making up a little of the time we lost early on. We set a new max speed record of 7.6 miles per hour. We have been fairly lucky with the locks the last couple of days as far as the time we have had to wait.  We have had a few exciting moments exiting locks with large Tows parked at the down steam entrance waiting to lock up steam.  We got caught in a strange situation where the dam was spilling a lot of water and between the Tow and pleasure craft there were 2-2.5 foot waves as we exited the lock.  We took on a little water and after we pulled over to the shore and I revived Pat, we continued on our way.


We get to stop in some interesting towns along the way to pick up groceries.  Each town has its own story but the one I found most interesting so far is the story about Oquawka, IL.  It seems in 1972 the circus came to town and as they were preparing to put on a show for the town, their elephant (named Norma Jean) was struck by lightning and killed.  The town folks buried the elephant in the center of town and erected a monument in its honor.  We picked up a couple post cards of the monument and I will scan them and make the picture available to all.  It is a nice monument and interesting story.  We also managed to survive our second weekend on the River.  It is impossible to describe how many recreational boats there are on the river after about 11 am Saturday and Sundays and how crazy the boaters are.  They keep the river so riled up that it is very difficult to paddle through all the wake.  There is every make and model and type of water craft that exists on the river.  Many of them are trolling with their kids on tubes, knee boards, skis, etc behind the boat darting in and out amongst the other boaters, tows, and us!!!  One of their most fun games is to head straight for us and then veer off at the last moment and attempt to communicate their apologies via weird charade gestures.


One sand bar we passed had 35 boats beached and the party was going strong.  Unfortunately we see the remnants of some of their previous parties when we stop for the night.  To date we camped out each night.  Two nights we were in campgrounds and the rest of the nights we were on sand bars or dredge islands. Where we are camped this evening is about 1.5 miles south of Lock 18.  The upstream tow traffic has been so heavy today that as we exited lock 18, there was a tow at the entrance and three more behind it waiting to lock upstream.  As I am finishing this note, I still see one waiting to lock and it has been about 3 hours and it will take him an hour after he is allowed to begin the lock process.


More to follow later. 


John and Pat Dickinson


Report #4 (6/19/03):


I have received several questions about the amount of weight we are carrying so I thought I would provide some clarification.  The weight varies greatly on how much water we have at any given time and how many days of food we have before resupply but here is a rough breakdown after a full resupply.


Pat and I weigh 290 pounds.  Pat said she would stop paddling if I provided any more detail in this category.


We have anywhere from 20 to 80 pounds of water depending how accessible it is.  We have pretty much settled in on carrying between 40 and 60 pounds in this section of the trip as water is quite accessible. We have four 2.5 gallon (10 liter) collapsible containers for water plus our camelbacks that are 100 oz each. 


The tent, stove, pots pans, frying pan, tarps, fuel, entrenching tool, ropes, duct tape, fiber glass repair kit, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, paddles, life jackets, paper products, water filter, lawn chairs, etc and carrying containers are about 120 pounds.


The electronics pack that contains several waterproof containers within it to house the PDA, Cell Phone, Marine Radio, Solar Panel, battery charger, extra batteries, numerous cables, River Maps, day pack (sun tan lotion, more paper products, snacks, first aid kit, etc.) and our rain suites weighs about 40-45 pounds. 


Our clothes and toiletries are packed in our biking panniers for waterproofing.  Combined they weigh about 50 pounds.


The remaining approximate 70 pounds is food and the tote bins to carry the food. The food consists of canned goods, pasta, granola, fresh fruit (when we can get it) bagels, cookies (lots of cookies), trail mix, peanut butter, jelly, etc.


Total when fully supplied for about 12 days including Pat and me is about 650 pounds.


For those who have requested Longitude and Latitude of our stops each night, find them below.  We started just south of Lock #2 in Hastings, MN and are about 5 miles north of Quincy, IL tonight.  I will continue providing the locations of our future stops in future updates.  Here are the locations to date:


June 19 N39, 59.523 W-91, 27.895

June 18 N40, 22.950 W-91, 23.088

June 17 N40, 43.676 W-91, 6.850

June 16 N40, 51.655 W-91, 3.073

June 15 N41, 13.551 W-91, 5.527

June 14 N41, 26.998 W-90, 43.329

June 13 N41, 41.560 W-90, 19.245

June 12 N41, 57.481 W-90, 7.062

June 11 N42, 15.144 W-90, 25.163

June 10 N42, 28.107 W-90, 37.625

June 09 N42, 41.264 W-90, 57.442

June 08 N43, 04.887 W-91, 10.438

June 07 N43, 23.797 W-91, 12.017

June 06 N43, 40.109 W-91, 15.397

June 05 N43, 59.281 W-91, 25.812

June 04 N44, 08.377 W-91, 45.858

June 03 N44, 25.082 W-92, 06.481

June 02 N44, 33.711 W-92, 25.952

Start     N44, 44.792 W-92, 50.902


There have been some questions about locks and tows, etc.  The "tow" is the name for a very large boat that pushes the barges around on the river.  I have yet to figure out why it is called tow when it "pushes" the barges?  Go figure!  When I find out, I will let you know.  Generally the largest "loads" that the tows can transport on this section of the river is 15 barges arranged in a 3 wide by 5 deep configuration that are pushed by the tows.  The restriction is not in the power of the tow but in the size of the locks.  With a couple exceptions, of the 27 locks on the upper Mississippi River, most can only accommodate up to 9 barges at a time.  So when a 15 barge tow reaches the lock, it first pushes the front 9 barges into the lock where they are decoupled and secured in the lock.  The tow with the remaining 6 barges still connected, backs out of the lock so the lock doors can be closed and the chamber flooded or drained depending on the direction of travel.  When the 9 barges reach the exit level in the lock, a winch is used to winch the barges out of the lock and they are secured to the lock wall outside of the lock chamber.  The chamber is then flooded or drained as appropriate and the tow with its still attached 6 barges enters the chamber and the level is again drained or flooded as appropriate and the tow and its six attached barges exit the lock and move forward to recouple the 9 barges that were locked through first. When all is secured, the tow is on its way.  The entire process takes about 1-1.5 hours.   In some cases, a 16th barge can be connected on the side of the tow and the width of the tow and a single barge is roughly the same width of 3 barges.



We finally got past Iowa on June 18th and are now between IL and MO.  Pat and I are fine but ready for a break.  Early next week, we will be stopping in St Louis for a couple days to visit my sister Ellie and her clan and we are looking forward to seeing them and getting off the river for a couple days.


More to follow later.  If you have questions, feel free to send them directly to me if you wish at


John and Pat Dickinson



Report #5 (6/27/03):


We are back on the river again after taking a three day rest at my sister Ellie’s house in O’Fallon, MO (northwest of St. Louis). We were treated to home cooked meals and waited on hand and foot. It was hard to leave but we had a great time and got to see Ellie’s two girls Shelley and Jenny and their husbands Clay and Steve and Ellie’s four grandchildren (Shelley and Clays children: Jacque, Emily and Bryanna & Jenny and Steve’s daughter Ashleigh). We have been fully resupplied and the canoe is again riding low in the water. We by-passed the last two locks in the St Louis area to avoid the tow congestion that accumulates especially at lock 27 which has to service all the traffic coming up the Mississippi River from the south, headed for the Missouri or Illinois Rivers, as well as that traffic that is continuing on up the Mississippi River, in addition to the traffic from the three rivers that is heading south. After some searching, we found a boat ramp that Ellie and Jenny dropped us off at this morning to continue our journey south. Pat has had enough excitement at the locks and very much enjoyed being able to bypass the last two. All of our stuff did not fit into Ellie’s car so Jenny was recruited to drive as well to carry the remainder of our equipment. We have a couple pictures of our 18 foot canoe on Ellie’s little Saturn. We sure got a bunch of strange looks as we were flying down I-270 to the boat ramp. All was well and we made it without incident. We launched about 10 miles north of downtown St. Louis so we have some pictures of the Arch as we paddled by. We encountered a surprising amount of tow activity and were amazed at the number of barges that were staged (parked) along both sides of the river. In some cases there were as many as nine barges wide and six barges long in a single cluster all tied together waiting to be broken up and moved up river. There was a big storm in the St. Louis area a couple days ago and there is still a lot of debris floating down stream that washed into the river from the storm. The current is faster than we have seen before and we have set a new speed record of 9.5 miles per hour with an average of 6.2 mph for the time we were moving. We only traveled about 25 miles today as we got a late start and took it easy the first day out after our 3 day rest. Currently we are about 15 miles south of the Arch and on a sandy dredge island on the IL side of the river looking across the river at some monster mansions on the bluffs of the MO side of the river. More to follow later. .... John and Pat Dickinson


Long and Lat since last update:

June 27 N38, 25.004 W-90, 18.135

June 23-June 26 at Ellie’s house:

            N38, 47.563 W-90, 43.996

June 22 N39, 06.443 W-90, 40.941

June 21 N39, 22.328 W-90, 53.688

June 20 n39, 38.711 W-91, 15.849


Report #6 (6/30/03):


We are currently at River Mile 72 on the Northern portion of the trip. We are about 105 miles south of St. Louis and about 40 miles north of Cape Girardeau, MO. We encountered our first day of rain today in about two weeks. It rained mainly during the day after we got started and stopped long enough for us to set up camp. We actually like those kind of rain days as it does not impact us while we are paddling and keeps the temperatures down. We have been encountering many more towboats and most are pushing between 25 and 35 barges (5 wide and 7 deep). The largest tow we have seen to date had 42 barges (6 wide and 7 deep). It is a very impressive sight seeing something that big coming at you. That one was traveling upstream and left the river riled up for about 1.5 to 2 miles behind it. Some of the waves in the wake were 3.5 to

4.5 feet high. Fortunately those very large waves are spaced far enough apart that the canoe just rides up and down the other side. It is the 1.5 to 2.5 foot waves that are spaced very close together that create the most problems for us and we end up taking on water. The bilge pump broke so now we are back to the old fashion way of bailing by hand. The current has been strong for the last few days so even with a strong head wind, we are easily able to average about 6 miles per hour and it makes for shorter days of paddling. AOL has been having major problems with their wireless service so the status reports are starting to stack up. Hopefully they will have the problem resolved soon and you will be getting these reports. More to follow later.


John and Pat Dickinson


Long and Lat since last report:


June 30 N37, 31.956 W-89, 30.583

June 29 N37, 50.137 W-89, 43.468

June 28 N38, 04.520 W-90, 10.746


Report #7 (7/7/03):


We made it through the 4th of July weekend without any excitement. This section of the River which is about 250 to 350 miles south of St Louis does not have the recreational boaters that the sections north of St Louis did. We see a few fishermen and an occasional pleasure boat but not the jet skis, water skiers and the like. We saw a few fireworks on the night of the 4th and heard quite a few off in the distance. We were about 3 miles north of Hickman, KY on the night of the 4th. Currently we are about 7 miles north of Caruthersville, MO. We have traveled about 914 miles to date and are a little over half way to New Orleans. We are estimating about 860 miles remain to our destination in New Orleans. The current is stronger in this section of the River and if there are no towboats around we travel in the channel and are easily averaging about 6 mph in spite of persistent headwinds. We set a new max speed of 9.6 mph. It is amazing how a towboat pushing 35 barges can inspire one to paddle fast to get out of the way. Days of the week seem to be blurring. We recall days by the events that marked them. One day was deer day, we saw 15 of them at various spots during the day. One day was turkey day as a wild turkey paid us a visit in our campsite that morning as we were getting up. One day was towboat day as we encountered 4 boats going downstream and 4 boats going up stream all within the first couple hours of the day. There were numerous other boats in both directions during the rest of the day as well. There was a quite day. The wind was light and the river was flat. We did not encounter any tows until early afternoon. The river was so quite and peaceful that day. Ol’ Miss is a very beautiful river even with the loud and thrashing towboats. As a canoeist, your view of a towboat is considerably different than someone in a large powered boat or an observer from shore. Nonetheless, they are operated by professionals and if you know the rules, you can easily stay out of their way.


With the extreme heat we have been experiencing the last week or so, we have been getting an early start and getting to our daily stopping point by early afternoon. If no natural shade is available, I set up a tarp so we can get out of the afternoon sun.  All is going well with the exception of our Sprint cell phone service and the AOL wireless service. AOL has been down for 2 weeks. I am working with Nat and Tracey to come up with plan B. More to follow.  

John and Pat Dickinson


Long and Lat for July will come in the next update.


Report #8: (7/8/03):


Since we have cell service two nights in a row, just a quick note to bring everyone up to date on the ol’ email status. As most of you know by now from the reports, AOL’s wireless support using their Hand Held Computer client software has been down for two weeks.  Between that problem and the infrequent Sprint Cell Service in this area, emails have been spotty at best.  Just a word of clarification to those who may have received very short and cryptic emails from us during the last couple weeks. We use the cell phone to connect to AOL’s Hand Held Computer email service. With the Hand Held we have a keyboard and can write long and detailed emails. We also can read our AOL mail with the cell phone. Since the AOL Hand Held Computer service has been down for two weeks, we have to read our email on the cell phones browser. The problem is keying in a response to an email using the buttons on the cell phone. Those who have cell phones know what a pain it is to have to try to do that. As a result, the messages from the cell phone are short and sometimes very cryptic. We can not compile the status reports via the cell phone as there are not enough hours in the day or week to accomplish that.


We have recently, with Nat’s help, activated an account on Yahoo to access their remote service so we now can use our Hand Held Computer to compose long email messages and status reports. That is how we sent reports 5, 6 and 7 to Nat to forward to you.


We will continue to use our cell phone to monitor emails sent to our AOL email address and will use yahoo remote service to send status reports to Nat to forward on to all of you and we will use yahoo to respond to your email messages to our AOL address when they are too long to respond via the cell phone keys.


Hope this did not confuse an already confusing situation. Watch for topics in the next report on the New Madrid earth quake and juggin.

More to follow later.

John and Pat Dickinson


Long and Lat for July:


July 1 N37, 15.994 W-89, 31.293

July 2 N37, 01.347 W-89, 15.812

July 3 N36, 55.007 W-89, 06.306

July 4 N36, 39.152 W-89, 09.587

July 5 N36, 30.780 W-89, 25.014

July 6 N36, 28.013 W-89, 31.798

July 7 N36, 14.914 W-89, 37.327

July 8 N36, 05.542 W-89, 40.023



Report #9 (7/15/03):


The weather continues to be our biggest problem. It has been in the 90s for the last two weeks. We have been consuming large quantities of water. Some days I have as much as 300 oz. We switched back to carrying four 2.5 gallon containers of water at each resupply opportunity north of Memphis and while we were in Memphis, we picked up two more so we are now carrying 6 which is 120 pounds of water when they are all full. In looking at the maps, it appears that we will have much greater difficulties after Memphis in finding drinking water. We have a water filter that we can use but we would prefer not to if we can find other sources along the way. 


As promised, just a short blurb about New Madrid, MO.  New Madrid is a quaint little river town like many we have encountered. Like most towns in this section of the river, it is almost all hidden from view behind a large levee. The people are very nice and curious about our trip and enjoy hearing our adventures. What is unique about New Madrid is that in 1811 they had a major earth quake. The locals tell us that if they would have had a Richter Scale at the time, it would have been an 8 or 9. The tremors were felt 1100 miles away. Some of you may recall that in the early 1990s they received national attention as some people were predicting another large quake in that area. Also of interest is that the New Madrid area was one of the very active sites in the Civil War. That area was were Grant, Polk and others started on their historic careers.


Also as promised in the last report, I was to tell everyone about juggin. No John and Chuck, juggin has nothing to do with drinking although I have heard that they still have some old timers that make some mighty powerful moonshine around the Kentucky, Tennessee border along the river. Juggin is a fishing technique that many use on the River in this area. It gets it name from the fact that the anglers use old milk, soap, bleach, soda, etc bottles (jugs) to attach a line, sinker, hook and bait and set them a drift in the channel. It is not uncommon to come upon Juggers with as many as 20-30 jugs floating down the river at a time. They follow along in their boats and if they see a bottle bouncing up and down, they race after it to land whatever may have hooked it self. Most often they are fishing for channel catfish that range from a couple pounds to as large they say as 80 pounds. Pat and I had the opportunity to float along with some juggers south of New Madrid and question them on the bait they use, technique etc. While we were with them, they caught two catfish each about 15 pounds. I asked them how they get a 70-80 pound catfish in the boat.  Their answer was they have to drag it to shore and deal with it there. It is also quite amusing to see the juggers scurry around collecting their jugs when a towboat is approaching their fishing area. It appears that to many along the river, catfish is one of their basic food groups.


We have been encountering some huge sandbars south of St Louis. They are fewer and farther apart from their northern kin but can be a couple miles long and up to 3/4 of a mile wide. Interestingly enough, we have encountered mini sand storms while camping on these large sandbars. With the high winds, sand blows everywhere. The very fine sand is small enough to pass through the mosquito netting on our tent. In the morning we often have very fine sand everywhere inside the tent. It is kind of a nuisance but much better than the Mississippi River Mud that is like grease.


Speaking of Mississippi River mud, anyone who has been on or near the Mississippi River has a story about mud. Here is our best (or worst) to date. Normally when we stop for lunch, we look for a place along the shore that has some shade. One day we can upon a section of shoreline that had some very nice shade trees set back from the waters edge behind a narrow strip of sand. So we unpacked our lawn chairs, drinking water and the day pack with our lunch stuff and started across the sand strip. Pat was leading the way and said that the sand was soft and had some mud content. She stopped and I went off in another direction to find a firmer path to the shade. I proceeded about 40 feet and the path I was traveling gave way out from under me and there I stood in mud up to my knees with a lawn chair slung over one shoulder, the day pack over the other and slowly sinking in the mud. I called to Pat to come over so I could throw the excess baggage to her so I could attempt to work my way out. Pat was off looking at something else and ignored my initial calls for assistance so when I started screaming at her she became aware of the fact that there was a serious problem. Instead of coming over to see what was happening she rushed toward me and found herself stuck in the mud up to her ankles.  The flight response took over and she bolted from the mud leaving her flip flops behind buried in the mud. I finally managed to throw the excess baggage I had to a drier area and started the process of trying to pick my legs up and work my way back to solid ground. I lost one of my sandals too and was not about to surrender it to the mud without a fight. I reached down in the footstep hole where I had lost it and fished around up to my arm pit and finally felt the sandal. All the while I am standing on one leg, now in the mud up to mid thigh and using the lawn chair as a crutch so as not to sink farther into the mud. It took all my might but I finally convinced that stinky greasy demon to surrender my sandal. Since I was now almost completely covered in mud up to my waist and the front of my shirt and one arm up to my armpit, I decided I had nothing to loose and went searching in the foot step holes where Pat had been to find her flip flops. After a few minutes of searching I was victorious. Once again getting the better of the mud.  I felt pretty smug but spent the next 45 minutes trying to clean up the mess. Since then, we have purchased two golf umbrellas so we can make our own shade for lunch!!!


The current continues to be strong. Friday we paddled 36.8 miles and averaged 6.8 mph with a slight tail wind most of the time. We set another new speed record of 10.3 mph on Saturday (7/12).


We laid over in Memphis Saturday night, Sunday night and most of Monday waiting for some faxes that I needed to deal with concerning Mom’s estate. They were supposed to be there Saturday night but did not arrive until about 1 pm on Monday. The good news in the whole deal was that it gave us some time to see Memphis.  Originally we only planned on seeing the Mississippi River Walk and then continue on our way. Downtown Memphis is very nice. A trolley runs down main street and a good deal of main street is closed to public autos. It is like one large plaza with many flowers, statues, fountains, etc. There is a skyway and a tram from the mainland downtown to Mud Island that has a large stage, marina and the Mississippi River Walk model.


The Mississippi River Walk is a scale model of the last 1000 miles of the Mississippi River. The model is 1/2 mile long. Each step (30 inches) is equal to one river mile. The model is made up of 1746 pre-cast concrete panels each weighing 8.5 tons. The panels are laid side by side and show the contour (depth) and surrounding sandbars and shoreline in a vertical scale of 1 inch to 8 feet. There is water flowing through the model so you can see where the current is strong, etc. An average of 1,200,000 gallons of water flows through the model. If you are interested in more information and some pictures of the model check out


We are currently about 40 miles south of Memphis. We have passed out of Tennessee and now have Mississippi on the East shore and Arkansas on the West. We are seeing many Tows each day. Many more of them have the 3 smoke stacks which indicate they are the big brothers of the Tow we saw up north. The largest Tow we have seen to date had 49 barges arranged in a 7 by 7 configuration. We are also seeing many more Tows whose barges are not arranged symmetrically as they all were up north. Some may have 3 in the first couple rows and then 5 or six across in the next few rows.  Some will have four across in the front and then the remaining rows across will only have 2 wide etc. You get the idea. Quite random to the casual observer. I am sure it must have something to do with the order in which they are dropped off.


More to follow later.


John and Pat Dickinson


Long and Lat since last report:


July 9 N35, 50.064 W-89, 42.936

July 10 N35, 47.300 W-89, 44.708

July 11 N35, 29.420 W-90, 00.498

July 12 N35, 09.004 W-90, 03.396

July 13 Second day in Memphis

July 14 N35, 01.496 W-90, 14.276

July 15 N34, 44.092 W-90, 27.747



-Report #10 (7/25/03):


Hi yall,


Note the greeting, we are so far south that our speech is starting to be affected. We are now flanked by the states of Louisiana and Mississippi. People down here talk funny. Pat has a hard time sometimes but I seem to be doing okay. I spent some time in the south while I was in the Army and learned a few tips on mastering the language down here. When you have no idea of what someone is saying, I find it helpful to throw in a few -  ‘is that right?’ grunts, smile and nod a lot. So far so good!


The water in this section (Memphis to Vicksburg) is between 8-10 feet above normal for this time of the year. We are told it is from flooding in Indiana that has caused the Ohio River to rise which in turn affects this portion of the Mississippi. This has created some interesting situations for us along the way. The biggest impact is that the maps we have show a lot of peninsulas that are now actually islands because of the high water. We encountered such a situation when Pat and I hiked about 3/4 of a mile across a sand bar that was supposed to be connected to the main land at the River View State Park in Mississippi. We needed to get more water. When we got within 300 yards of the park, there was a steam flowing between the sandbar and the park that was about 100 yards wide and about waist deep. The current was not too bad so I took one water container at a time and forded the steam while Pat encouraged from the shoreline. I had to hike about a 1/4 mile to get the jugs filled and then hike back, re-cross the stream and repeat the process again with the next container.  I did not want to take both containers at the same time as that would be 40 pounds of water and if stepped into a hole, we may be out both jugs as well as I would get a chance to see if I could swim against the current. Better to be safe than sorry.


The rising water also caused a very sleepless night a few days ago. Pat and I paddled hard all day long against the wind and when we reached where we thought we would stay for the night, we found that the sand bar was under water. We had to paddle on for another couple hours and finally had to settle for a sand bar that was not very high above the water level. As we routinely do, I put a stick in the sand at the water level so we could keep track of the level. It was raining around us most of the day and as we settled in for the night it began raining very hard where we were. I would periodically poke my head out of the tent door and shine the light on the stick only to see the stick getting shorter and shorter each time. The water was rising about an inch every couple hours. The closer it got to the tent the more I would check it. I do not think I slept more than an hour at a time all night.  When morning came it was still raining and the level was still rising. We packed up all our stuff and moved about 300 yards to higher ground and laid over a day get some rest. The river has since been going down about 8-10 inches each night.


The weather continues to be the focus of much of our attention. There have been some really nasty storms that have moved through the area with golf ball size hail, etc but we have been very lucky and have not experienced anything that bad. We spend a lot of time listening to our weather radio. The last couple of days have been a little better. For the previous week, we were faced with heat advisories every day. The heat index got as high as 108 a couple days ago. As a result of the extreme heat, Pat and I have developed a new mode of moving down the river.


We have started to use our umbrellas (where the wind is cooperating) as sails and get in the center of the channel (when no tows are present) and let the current and wind carry us down stream. We have hit speeds up 7.9 mph. The great thing is that we often can use the umbrellas for shade and sails at the same time. On some days when it is so stifling hot, we will sit under our umbrellas and let the current carry us for a couple hours during the day. We will alternate between paddling and coasting to have periods out of the sun but still making progress down the river. Generally, if in a particular section of the river, we can drift at round 4 mph or faster we will…otherwise we paddle. I am not sure how fast the current is moving but we can often drift between 3.5 to 5.5 mph. Where the river narrows, the current picks up and the fastest we have drifted without the sails is about 6 mph.


A few days ago we left the river for a few miles to travel north into Greenville Harbor, also known as Lake Ferguson. We needed to get water and resupply our food at Greenville, MS. Although the round trip was only 10 miles, it was in dead water (i.e. no current). We were painfully reminded of how difficult it is to paddle a fully loaded canoe with no help from the current. We were glad to return to the river. While we were paddling up to Greenville, we were entertained by many large (some up to about 3 feet) spoonbill fish jumping out of the water. They were apparently feeding on dragonflies, etc above the water and they would leap completely out of the water to catch them. There were a few so close to the canoe that I thought they may land in the boat. On occasion, there would be 3 or 4 in the air at the same time as you looked out ahead across the water.


As of the 25th, we have traveled 1321 miles and have about 353 miles to go.


More to follow later.


John and Pat Dickinson


Long and Lat since last update:

July 16 N34, 23.976 W-90, 36.337

July 17 N34, 09.477 W-90, 56.278

July 18 N33, 50.352 W-91, 03.667

July 19 N33, 50.349 W-91, 03.609

July 20 N33, 39.521 W-91, 11.668

July 21 N33, 23.372 W-91, 06.319

July 22 N33, 18.305 W-91, 09.754

July 23 N32, 57.430 W-91, 06.971

July 24 N32, 38.993 W-91, 08.398

July 25 N32, 21.549 W-90, 59.681


Report #11 (8/6/2003):


Hi again,


We are now flanked on both sides by the state of Louisiana. The weather continues to be hotter than hot. We have slowed our pace so as not to arrive in New Orleans before our pickup date of August 11. Our daughter Tracey and our son-in-law Chad will drive our van down to New Orleans and we will vacation with them for a few days and all drive back together. Currently we are traveling about 20-25 miles a day mostly depending on finding a place to camp for the evening.  The river is becoming more well defined (not many sand bar islands, etc) so if we find a nice towhead, we will pull up short for the day and camp there and make up the difference the next day. We have little problem maintaining an average of 6.5 to 7 mph if we need to with the current as strong as it is.


Since the last update, we have observed two new records for the size of tows on the same tow. One was for a record length of 8 barges long and the second was for the largest number of barges, which was 50. He had 6 wide by 8 long and two extra barges nearest the tow on the starboard (right) side so he was seven wide in the first two rows from the tow and six wide in the remaining rows which made a total of 50.


We stopped in Vicksburg, MS about a week back and picked up a few supplies and water. Most of the big cities on the river have Gambling Boats (Casinos). Interestingly enough some are actually boats, most sit over the water on built up revetments and are not even close to the water. Some are on large floating platforms securely anchored in place and move up and down as the water level changes but by no means are they boats. I guess it just depends on the local laws as what constitutes a boat so they can get around the gambling laws. In any event, they work out well for us as we got water from the one in Vicksburg and had their lunch buffet. I ate so much I could hardly walk. It was super to have shrimp, baked chicken, baked fish, roast beef, etc. No pasta for me. I even had seconds from the dessert cart. We stopped in Natchez a few days ago for what we hope to be our last stop for food. The grocery store was a mile or so from the river and as always up a monster hill to get over the levee so we called a cab. We got the you have no other choice inflated rate and it cost us $18 for the two of us to ride one mile to the store and one mile back. In retrospect, it was cheap at twice the price since we had about 6 bags of groceries and would never have made it walking.


On August 3rd we finally saw our first alligators. We were going to stop at a place called the Oyster Bar for water. I called ahead to make sure they were there. They would not be open when we were going to pass by but the lady said they had an outside faucet that we could use. She said we could come up Bayou Sara about a quarter mile off the river or we could walk along the road from a ferry crossing that was near by for about the same distance. She said the water was low and it may be difficult to get up the bank but we could give it a try if we wanted. So looking for the easy way out and not having to carry the water as far, we decided to paddle up the creek.

We got about half way there and there was this log floating in the water. We had been joking for days with each other each time we would see such a log, we would say look at the alligator, laugh and go on. So as we approached the log, Pat said look at the alligator jokingly. I laughed and looked closer and noticed that the log was swimming along with us. I said that is an alligator! I immediately started paddling backwards as we passed by it and I wanted to back up to get closer to get a picture. Pat immediately started paddling in the opposite direction to get back to the river. By the time I convinced her we would not get too close and got the canoe turned around and the camera at the ready, it sunk out of sight. After looking around a little more closely, I spotted a couple more much smaller (2 feet) and took their pictures. The larger one was about 5 feet long. After that, Pat would have no part of going up the bayou for water so we went back to the river at the ferry landing and I walked to the Oyster bar along the road to get the first two containers of water. As I returned to the ferry landing for the other two containers, the captain of the ferry figured out what we were up to and allowed us to fill the remaining two containers from their water supply. We had a nice chat, as much of it as I could understand and it was time for the ferry to cross to the other side so we said our good byes and were off down the river with a full complement of water (15 gallons, the four containers that we just filled and two containers that we had that were still full).


The following day, I talked Pat into taking a slight detour to paddle about a quarter mile up Thompson creek in search of more alligators but we did not see any. I have looked ahead on the maps and see a couple more creeks that I want to try exploring for more alligators as we have plenty of time at the current rate we are traveling. We will see how adventurous Pat is in a few days after the initial shock of seeing the first couple wears off.


We finally went through Baton Rouge today. We have been waiting for days with mixed feelings about it.  Baton Rouge marks the beginning of the more industrialized section of the river. There are many many more terminals, docks, fleeting areas (parking areas for barges), etc from here to New Orleans. As we approached Baton Rouge, we went through a staging area about 5 miles upstream from town. There were easily 3 dozen tows of all sizes and well over two hundred barges parked along both sides of the river over a couple mile stretch. I would guess that at least a third of the tows were active in hooking up barges or organizing barges for loads to be picked up. Most of the organizing work is done by much smaller tows than the ones that move the massive configuration of barges up and down the river. In our numerous encounters with these small tows and observing their interaction with other small pleasure craft and our canoe, I have concluded that many suffer from a syndrome I have labeled big towboat envy. It is my feeling that they do not get the respect from the fishermen and pleasure boat operators that they feel they deserve as the big towboats do. Fishermen and pleasure craft give the big towboats more space than they do the little towboats that are scarcely much larger than a big run-about. I believe that builds up hostilities that the small tows take out on the only other craft that they are bigger than and they can catch, the canoe. They seem to derive great pleasure in heading directly on a line that will force us to paddle as fast as we can to get out of their way. Although I can not prove it, I think on more than one occasion, they changed their route just so they could see us panic and scramble to get out of their way. They seem to have a nasty streak when it comes to canoes. We call them the trouble makers when we see them approaching.


We also had an interesting situation in Baton Rouge when we stopped on the shore near a gambling boat, as we have done many times before to get water from them.  As I scrambled up the bank to get to the parking lot, I was met by Joel the Manager of Casino Security. Joel wanted to see my ID and took down my name and address and informed me that since 9/11 there was a directive from the Office of Homeland Security that there could be no vessel docking along the shore in Baton Rouge. I started to laugh as I though Joel was going to have some good natured fun with a Yankee boy. Joel was very serious. I attempted to reason with Joel and explain why I was holding the two empty water containers but Joel took his managerial responsibilities very seriously. I asked him why it was okay to stop at the town boat ramp but not on the shore at that point. I said I could understand if it was for liability reasons but I did not see Casinos being high on the terrorists hit list. Joel had made up his mind that we were not going to get any water so I decided the best course of action was to let Joel execute his managerial duties and be on my way. We paddled 500 yards down the river and stopped on the shore by the museum and I scrambled up the bank over the levee and down the other side to museum and got water there. Go figure!


We are currently at river mile 197 which is about 33 miles down steam from Baton Rouge. We have traveled about 1567 river miles to date. We have just over 100 river miles to our exit point in New Orleans at St Peter Street in the French Quarter. The last couple days it seems like we have been paddling in circles.  We are in one of those sections of the river as the locals say, it meanders a lot. In the last two days we paddled 40 miles but the straight line distance we

traveled was only 22 miles!!


We saw our first ocean cargo ship today. It was heading upstream toward Baton Rouge.


More to follow later.


John and Pat Dickinson


Long and Lat since last update:


July 26 N32, 16.951 W-90, 57.239

July 27 N32, 03.524 W-91, 03.957

July 28 N31, 51.145 W-91, 18.048

July 29 N31, 39.538 W-91, 24.228

July 30 N31, 29.025 W-91, 31.355

July 31 N31, 12.364 W-91, 36.256

Aug 01 N30, 55.556 W-91, 38.029

Aug 02 N30, 44.311 W-91, 29.885

Aug 03 N30, 40.353 W-91, 20.134

Aug 04 N30, 30.415 W-91, 16.339

Aug 05 N30, 19.048 W-91, 09.104

Aug 06 N30, 12.541 W-91, 09.305






Report #12 (8/13/03):




We arrived in New Orleans Monday morning, Aug 11th @ about 9 AM after staying just about 10 miles up the river the night before.  Tracey & Chad met us a couple hours later at the designated spot as planned.  We will take the next couple days to re-acclimate ourselves to indoor plumbing, getting drinking water from a faucet, meals other than pasta, sleeping on a bed & no paddling!


Look for a trip summary to follow next week, after we get back to Minneapolis.


More to follow,

John & Pat Dickinson



Canoe Trip Summary.


Hi all,


Where has the time gone!?! It seems like we have been back home for only a couple weeks but as I look at the calendar it has been almost TWO MONTHS since we landed in New Orleans.  I wanted to share a few observations about the last section of the river and provide some summary data on the trip.  Where I left off in Update #11, we were just about 100 miles from New Orleans.  The last 100 miles was the most exciting for me and the most stressful for Pat.  We encountered as much river traffic in the last 100 miles as we did in the previous 1600 miles combined.  There were many  “little trouble makers” (i.e. the small tows), many large tows (although their barge count was only typically in the “teens” or less), several ferries crossing hither and yon in our path, a couple of dredges, a few tour boats and coolest of all was the many Ocean Liners we saw (probably numbering over 200), most were docked but many passed us traveling upstream or down as we were paddling.


There were hundreds of barges “parked” along both sides of the river in various fleeting areas, most secured to the shore and tied to each other extending 6 to 10 barges wide out from the shoreline.  Some of the barges where actually anchored out in the river far enough from shore so that we could pass between them and the shore.  In one section there were several Ocean Lines anchored awaiting space to dock and we had to weave between them to avoid getting too far out into the channel.  We passed within a few feet of these sleeping giants.  The thought of the Indiana Jones movie where Indy was almost crushed between two large ships when the boat he was in tried to pass between them flashed through my mind but I quickly dismissed it as there was ample distance between the ships.


The two things that I found most interesting about the Ocean Liners (other than their obvious size and diversity) was the wake they created and how quiet they were.  Although they created a wake that could vary from about three to 5+ feet depending on the type of ship and how fully it was loaded, etc, the period of the waves (i.e. the distance between peaks of the wake) was considerably greater than the length of the canoe and the waves did not “break” until they reached the shore.  As a result, when the big ships would pass us as we were paddling, the canoe would harmlessly rise and fall on the wake without the threat of taking on water.  However if we were on shore for a break, we would have to hold the canoe out in knee to waist deep water with the bow pointed into the wake as it hit the shoreline or we would find the canoe full of water and washed up on shore.  Most often it was easier to just cut the break short, get into the canoe and paddle away from shore rather than fighting the breaking wake to keep it from battering the canoe.  Obviously when we stopped for the night, we made sure the canoe was a good distance from the shoreline and on high ground.  When we got into the situations where there were towboats, Ocean Liners and tug boats all operating in the same area we were paddling through, the inter-mingling of their respective wakes presented some interesting challenges navigating through the resulting turbulence.


Having spent the better part of two months dodging towboats, we were very used to having significant time to observe or hear the slow moving tows approaching.  If you did not see a tow approaching from the rear, you certainly heard it well before it closed close enough to be a problem.  With the Ocean Liners, it was a different situation.  Those ships moved extremely fast and were so quiet that if you were not constantly looking behind you, the next time you turned around you were in for a big surprise!  After having a very large, very fast ship come up behind us without knowing it and have it pass us just about a 150 yards away, we decided wherever possible we would stay as close to the shoreline as possible and be more vigilant in checking behind us.


The last 100 miles of the trip also provided many things for us to observe as we were paddling.  With the heavy river traffic, there was always a ship, a tow, a tug, a dock, a fleeting area or something to see as we traveled.  One area we passed through must have been a “mothball area” for old towboats as we saw what appeared to be several generations of old rusting towboats moored together.  We also saw several ship repair areas and dry docks.   At one dry dock area, there was a naval ship completely out of the water being repaired and in the bay next to it, there was a new ship being built.  There was a tremendous amount of activity to observe relating to the loading and unloading of the Ocean Liners.  Many carried dried goods, many had special loading and unloading equipment for the products they carried but one of the most impressive was the huge movable cranes that were used to unload containerized cargo.


Here are a few statistics from our canoe trip from Minneapolis (actually just south of Lock #2 in Hastings) to New Orleans:


            Departed:                                              June 2, 2003

            Arrived:                                                 August 11, 2003

            Total Days:                                            71        

Paddling Days:                                      64        

            Rain Days:                                            7

            Camping Nights:                                    65

            River Miles:                                           1669

            Highest Daily Average Speed:                 6.8 MPH

            Maximum Speed:                                   10.3 MPH

            Most Daily Miles paddled:                       37.0

            Number of Locks:                                   23


In summary, the trip was absolutely wonderful.  We had some incidents with heavy winds, turbulent water, water in the canoe and closely passing towboats but were never in any life threatening situations.  We saw an abundance of wild life including eagles, snakes, turtles, beaver, turkey, opossum, pelicans, alligators, deer, raccoon, wild dogs, fox and many many herons.  Except for a couple days of rain and a couple weeks of extreme heat, the weather was excellent.  The people along our route were extremely nice and very helpful.  Often they would go out of their way to give us a ride to get water or groceries.  The river was considerably cleaner than we imagined it would be.  Except for the last couple days of the trip, I went for a swim every day.  We were expecting to have to camp in some muddy and smelly places but that was never the case.  We were extremely pleased with the beautiful sandbars and dredge islands that we called home each evening.



  I am hopeful that I will have them organized and available for viewing by Thanksgiving.  When they are ready, I will let everyone know.  Have a great fall!!!


John and Pat Dickinson