Sunday, November 30, 2008

Go With The Flow

I was happy to only be woken up once by a train in the middle of the night. I was unhappy to wake to the alarm in the morning and the sound of rain pattering on my tent. Kobie and I had to shuttle down to the boat ramp as we still only had one functioning kayak cart As we arrived at the ramp we met a group of duck hunters that seemed surprised to see us. When we told them where we started and where we were going they went silent, each with puzzled look on their face.

Our day paddling started in a 37 degree mizzle. 37 degrees and rainy just doesn’t seem like that bad a day anymore. Either we are getting used to the questionable weather or we are able to better manage it. One day of rain really isn’t a big deal unless it is an absolute deluge. The problem arises when it has been raining nonstop for several days in a row and everything becomes soggy. Regardless of what happens on the river, I look forward to a nice warm, dry tent and sleeping bag at night.

In the morning we passed Cape Girardeau. The town has several sites of historical interest relating to the Civil War and was home to an artillery battle on April 26, 1863 bearing the town’s name. Cape Girardeau, originally known as Cape Fremont is also where the Missouri State Flag was designed.

Northbound barge traffic is consistent though again, nothing seems to be moving southbound other than the water current and us. I have learned that barges usually don’t make much of a wake as they generally move quite slowly and they have a flat bottom. I was caught by surprise today though as a tug was pushing along one empty barge. The barge kicked up an unexpected wake that produced a wake that included the two largest waves I have had to contend with on this trip. I was facing the wake with the front of my boat so I wasn’t concerned about going over, but it would have been unpleasant if one of those waves would have broken over the bow of my kayak. As it was I made a spectacular splash when coming down the back of each of the waves.

On the river there is quite a bit of roiling water. It could be from an underwater obstruction, wing dam, water intake or exhaust pipe. While I wouldn’t consider the roiling water dangerous, I am circumspect of anything that might upset the balance of me keeping my posterior facing downward towards the river. I have been rather diligent scanning the river for swirling water, but in one instance today I must have passed above an exit pipe as out of nowhere I was in a pool of roiling water. Was I not paying attention I may have been caught off balance, but as it was the effect was little more than pushing the front of my kayak in one direction while nudging the back the other. With the forward momentum I could simply keep paddling out of it. It is disconcerting though to see the water change from a smooth surface to a turbulent maelstrom. Were I in the ocean I might think a submarine was surfacing.

We passed a town called Commerce, MO. I liked the name. There was no mistaking what was going on there when the town was founded. It didn’t appear though as if much of the town’s namesake was transpiring on this day.

The rain had tapered leaving Kobie and I undecided as to whether we should just eat a cold can of soup while drifting along in our kayaks or to go ashore and have a sandwich for lunch. The sandwich won out. I had been sitting in a kayak, with a width narrower than an economy class airline seat and less legroom, for five hours.

As soon as we got out of our kayaks it once again began to rain. We made quick work of a couple of sandwiches and as soon as I was finished ran around looking like an imbecile to stretch my legs. Kobie and I talked about shortening our lunch breaks as we were tending to linger, but I couldn’t make this one short enough.

Yesterday I mentioned that I hadn’t seen a Bald Eagle since St. Louis and today I saw three. Perhaps I should mention that I hadn’t seen the sun as it too might show itself. As far as other avian wildlife, geese and ducks have been replaced by gulls and crows for the most part.

The current was running quite well again today. I never know if it is a fluke and will taper off or if it will continue like this until the Gulf. Kobie measured the top speed today at 10.1 miles per hour. When there is such a good current to help us along I get in a rhythm and feel as if someone clipped off my paddle blades, leaving me swinging my paddle in the air. I think back to the effort I had to exert going against the current on the Red River and laugh.

My big entertainment for the day was watching the buoys as I zipped past. Being immediately next to them as I pass makes to seems as if I am going a million miles per hour. The current of the river is made obvious as the water rushes past the buoys and creates a disturbance in the water. In one instance I wanted to take some video of what it looked like to fly past a buoy, but the video is only a few seconds of me approaching the buoy, the camera going down with only the words, “oh crap” audible as I was on a collision course with the buoy. I literally skimmed the buoy as I went past.

There are actually buoys on both side of the main channel of the river. Each side of the channel is delineated with a buoy of a different shape and color. On one side is the green buoy, also called a “can”, and on the other a red buoy, referred to as a “nun”. At night or in poor lighting conditions, color alone isn’t always enough to discern which side of the channel a barge is traveling, hence the two distinct shapes. In this picture Kobie is paddling past a nun.

The rain was consistent in the afternoon and as the forecast was for more rain and wind, it made the task of finding a suitable camping site a challenge. The sky was every shade of gray leaving it impossible to tell where the output from the smokestacks of the factories ended and the dark clouds began. Kobie and I used all the daylight that was offered to find a marginal camping spot up a muddy bank and got our tents up in a rare break in the rain. While we weren’t going to have to contend with trains, there was a steady drone of barge traffic.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

BIG Day!

I was quite nice to only have to move the kayaks less than 20 feet to get them back in the water and be on our way. I had some doubts as to how camping on a sandy beach so close to the river would work out, but I have to say it worked quite well. The dogs that were barking were a non-event, there was little in the way of barge traffic and in the morning only one pleasure boat, probably a hunter, came past.

At this time of year, at this location, it is probably light enough to get safely on the water at 6:15ish. While we didn’t quite make that, we did get a jump on the day shortly before seven. Having been a warm night made it far easier to get going than had it been in the 20’s.

We paddled past the town of Chester, IL. Aside from being home to a penitentiary, Chester was also the site of Fort Kaskaskia. The Fort, overlooking the river, was constructed by the French as protection against the British during the French and Indian war. We also paddled under the Chester Bridge. The bridge across the Mississippi linking Illinois and Missouri in the location was completed in 1942. Only two years later though a windstorm caused two of the spans to collapse and it was another two years before the bridge saw traffic again.

I was having fun on the water in the morning paddling along with the assistance of a strong current. The sun and clouds were trading on and off seemingly by the hour, but as it barely made it into the 30’s last night I wasn’t bothered whether the sun was shining or not.

On one section of the river heading due south the wind picked up. The wind was probably only about 10 miles per hour, but it was enough to slow progress as it was blowing north. As the river was nearly a mile wide there was just no place to hide. The islands that existed throughout the river further north were now nowhere to be found. We did the only thing we could, paddle.

Another big factor in our speed is whether we are able to paddle in the main channel used by barges. The current seems to run faster in the channel. As we have zero interest in playing chicken with a 30,000 ton barge though, we yield when barges approach. The water level is quite low and forecast to be dropping so there isn’t as much flow as there would be in spring, but then again there would be far more barge and pleasure boat traffic to contend with. While we are forced to contend with cold temperatures and many services along the river being closed for the season, this is the slowest time of year for river traffic.

By the time we stopped for lunch at noon we were 31.5 miles by river from our starting point that morning. It wasn’t only slightly further than our second longest day by that same time, but bested it by 50%. The distance we covered before lunch was greater than any single full day paddling in the first month and a half of this trip. While Kobie and I are not chicken counting type people, our concerns of making it to the Gulf before Kobie’s flight back home were pacified.

Barge traffic was steady throughout the day, seeing one every half hour or so. With the exception of one barge we saw while sitting on the shore eating lunch, all barges were heading north. I can’t explain why, but it is nice not to have barges sneak up behind us.

We have been seeing very little in the way of wildlife on this part of the river. The streak of seeing a Bald Eagle every day for a month ended in St. Louis and I haven’t seen one since. While I have seen some deer tracks on the side of the river this past week, only today did I see a lone deer running along the riverbank. I don’t mind so much not seeing wildlife as long as it doesn’t suddenly pick up down in Louisiana in the form of alligators and water snakes.

The day seemed to go by in a flash and when we were done we had come 53.4 miles since setting out in the morning. Running short on daylight we had to finish at 4:30. I wonder how far we could have gone in the summer when there is a little more water and significantly more sunlight.

As we pulled up to Trail of Tears State Park it began drizzling. We were excited to have a real place to camp with electricity, a toilet and were hoping to sit outside but that plan was precluded by the rain.

The park in which we camped was named after the event that forcibly removed Native American Indians from their homeland to present day Oklahoma. The process of eviction was started by the signing of the Indian Removal Act of 1830, inked by Andrew Jackson. The act provided funds for the negotiation of removal treaties. Tribal Leaders were coerced to sign the treaties and forced west. While the Removal Act was signed by Jackson, it was MartinVan Buren that carried out the actual relocations. The Act was met with opposition by some parties, including the Christian Missionaries as well as by Tennessee Congressman Davey Crockett. The National Park Service has a good web-site if you are interested in learning more.

It was a day of records for this trip as not only do we have a new record for how far we paddled in one day, but we have a new record of how many barges we have seen being pushed by one tug: 30. He used the conventional 5 x 6 formation. The other record for the day and I wish we weren’t breaking this one, is how close our tents were set up near the train tracks. It wasn’t that we were nearly on top of the tracks, but also a road crossing where the train would be required to unleash its horn. As we hadn’t seen a single train all day on the west side of the river we thought we might be safe, but as soon as we go the tents set up we got a sample of what we would have in store. As we weren’t going to use any of the facilities at the park in the rain, we would have been better off camping on a sandbar across the river. We would have been farther from the train and it would have been free.

Friday, November 28, 2008

A Whole Half Day

The morning began with Kobie going out to look for a tire and I having breakfast. As I was eating breakfast I was informed that someone had stopped in and left the message that he was looking for a trailer. It had to be Dave. Dave returned as I was finishing breakfast as did Kobie minutes later.

Kobie struck out on the tire front locally, so Dave offered a ride to Herculaneum, but Kobie was shut out there as well. Back at the hotel we began bringing our gear down from the room. We couldn’t get the kayaks out before 9 o’clock as that was when breakfast ended. We would have had to bring the kayaks right through the breakfast area where a dozen people were sitting.

While bringing down our gear some folks began asking questions as to what we were doing. Chatting with people a few minutes at a time added significantly to the amount of time it took to bring get our gear out of our room and into Dave’s truck. The hotel was a family run business and all were present for Thanksgiving so we had the opportunity to speak with most of the members of the family. They suggested that we must get tired of answering the same questions all the time, but we don’t. While the overriding goal is to make it to the Gulf, this trip is also about meeting the people along the way and learning about the areas that we are paddling through. We even received a retroactive invitation for Thanksgiving dinner yesterday from the folks running the hotel. It was minor stir getting packed up, kayaks loaded, photos taken and finally making our way back down to the river.

While driving back to river we kept our eyes open for Kobie’s tire lying on the side of the road, but it wasn’t to be found. Kobie ordered a new set to be delivered 200 miles down river. We had enough in the way of food and water for a week, so didn’t think we would need our kayak carts until then anyway.

It took quite some time to get loaded up, but eventually we did and finally set off by noon. Dave, being even more helpful than he had been getting us back to the Plattin Rock boat ramp, he gave us in our kayaks a shove off the bank and into the river. Thanks Dave.

As we began paddling I mentioned to Kobie that it feels very sluggish. He looked at me ad said, “we are going 6.5 miles per hour”. Suddenly it no longer felt quite so sluggish. Perhaps it was gorging myself on turkey that made me feel as if I was paddling through oil.

The banks of the river became quite sandy in places. It made me think back to all the mud back up on the Red River. Paddling on the Red seems ions ago, yet feels as if it was yesterday.

I stripped down to short sleeves just after beginning to paddle. Also shortly into our day we passed a barge. As if being our coxswain the tug captain called out over his PA system, ”stroke, stroke, stroke” and then broke into a few verses of “Stroke me”, by Billy Squier. He seemed to be having a good time and why not? Things could probably get a bit boring plying the river all day coming up from New Orleans. It was fun for us as well.

The day was short given that we only began paddling at noon, but somehow we still managed to eke out some 29 miles. It was due solely to the fact that our average speed for the day was 6.1 miles per hour, significantly higher than any other day with the exception of the day arriving in Crystal City.

We camped on a sandy beach as if we were at the ocean. When barges passed we even had the sound of waves on the shore. While Kobie’s tent is a great lightweight hiking tent, it doesn’t fare well in sand, so we decided to bunk in my tent for the night. We were on our kick of being more efficient so having to only pack one tent would help with that. It was also nice not to have to carry our kayaks more than ten feet out of the water as they are fully laden. It wasn’t quite as bad as when we left Winnipeg where I was carrying 50 pounds of water alone, but I don’t necessarily want to move my kayak more than I have to. My hands hurt enough as it is. Every day my fingers start out more stiff than they began the one previous. I also have some tingling in my fingertips.

As we were on a sandy beach I was all for a bonfire. It was a warm night, so other than cooking our sausages and sauerkraut on the fire, it wasn’t really necessary. I love good fire though. We got the fire going and as we were sitting in the light of the fire Kobie spotted what he thought was a small boat just in front of us on the river. As it turned out it wasn’t a small boat, but rather the front light of a 1,200 foot barge. We had to swivel our heads to see the rear end. Barges are far more impressive at night.

We found ourselves a great campsite on the river though the drawback was the barge traffic. The tugs pushing against the current strained their engines getting their cargo north. Those heading downriver were far quieter. Another annoyance from the barges are the spot lights they use to navigate. Those lights have to be 15 million candlepower. They scan the banks of the river looking for reflective markers that are posted indicating where on the river the barge is. It seems though as if they checking to see if someone is going to rob the stage coach.

My only real concern about our chosen location to camp was the sound of a pack of dogs. They didn’t sound like coyotes, but wild dogs.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving Day

I was up at first light as seems to happen when we stay in town inasmuch as when I first open my eyes I begin thinking of what I have to get done for the day. It isn’t necessarily a bad thing as I can get a jump on what needs to be done. My main focus for the day was obviously to resupply but to also get a few updates online.

Kobie started his day by going back to the boat ramp where he hoped he would find the missing wheel sitting on the side of the river. While he didn’t find the wheel he did run into Dave, the fellow from yesterday. Dave mentioned that there was a farm supply warehouse a few miles north in the town of Herculaneum. How is that for the name of a town? Better still he might also be able to provide a ride.

Crystal City, MO where we got off the river was actually founded solely to produce glass. I was happy to hear that the original name of New Detroit didn’t stick. The town was strictly a company town being owned by Pittsburg Plate Glass Company before it began selling plots to private citizens. When a new factory was built in 1908 it was the largest plate glass producing plant in the world. Unfortunately glass production in Crystal City has gone the way of the buggy whip.

Today Crystal City is local in an area known as the Lead Belt, comprising southeastern Missouri. The area is rumored to have the highest concentration of lead anywhere on the planet as well as being the worlds leading lead producer.

I was hoping to show Kobie what a true Thanksgiving dinner was all about, but we had to settle for the buffet at a place called Ryan’s. We had an intimate little meal with 100 strangers. While it didn’t involve family, football or ugly sweaters, I packed in as much food as humanly possible and had to waddle out of the restaurant.

While sitting in the restaurant I was wondering what everyone’s story was and why they were in the restaurant for Thanksgiving. Perhaps some people don’t like to cook, some I’d guess don’t have any family and us, well, we were out of town.

As we sat eating I said to Kobie, “I can’t wait to get on the water tomorrow”, but then made a slight change to “I can’t wait to be on the water tomorrow” as our prospects of finding a wheel for Kobie looked poor. Dave mentioned that he might be able to get us to the river, but absent that we decided we would have to either start offering money to random people that had a vehicle capable of transporting two kayaks, or both of us walk the four miles to the river with one kayak and then have one of us walk back with a wheel to get the other kayak. It would involve one of us having to walk 12 miles and really wouldn’t lend itself to a long day paddling.

To try and complete the picture of Thanksgiving, we ended our night sitting in front of the TV, though not having any leftovers.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Good Start, Rough Ending

Tony gave us a brief tour of St. Louis before dropping us back down at the river. There were many historic homes in the city, including a number of row houses near Lafayette Park.

It was a wonderfully sunny morning, so instead of getting right in the river we ambled up to the park to take some photos before setting off. After getting on the water we took yet more photos, but we quickly drifted downriver. As we were not yet finished taking photos, we had to paddle upriver. Trying to paddle upriver was a futile effort. If ever I had any thoughts of kayaking up the Mississippi River, my mind was freed of the notion in its entirety. Staring out morning at a national landmark was such a great was to start out.

We quickly left St Louis and the Gateway Arch behind as the river was still only several hundred feet wide and running strong, picking up exactly where it left off the day before. The barge traffic on the river was akin to what I might experience on the West Side Highway in New York City at five o’clock on a summer Friday. There were barges, tugs and all manner of other boats cruising about. With the current of the river running as fast as it was, the downriver boats moved much faster than in the past. To add to the barge density on the water, there were many barges simply moored in the middle of the river, at times in large numbers. I had to keep a vigilant watch to ensure that no boats snuck up on us. The bigger problem was that all the movement from the boats created waves going in every direction, at times rebounding off the barges parked on the side of the river sloshing me all over. The waves seemed to be much steeper than from boats further up the river. The motion of my kayak was like having the fulcrum of a seesaw being raised from two feet to four.

Another problem with all the river traffic was that I had no idea where the boats were going and what their intentions were. I had my radio on so that a boat could call on the emergency channel if need be, but they probably don’t expect a kayak to be carrying a marine radio. I always felt better when I saw even a small section of the side of a tug or barge as I knew we weren’t on a collision course.

As we paddled along there was one tug and barge on the side of the river coupling with another barge, playing music over its PA system as it sat there. We yelled back and forth with the crew and then over the PA came something along the lines of “are you guys f------- freezing yet, or what? What a terrible day to ask as it was warm, sunny and just all around beautiful. Had he inquired a week ago, he would have heard a resounding yes, or to put it in his lingo, “Hell yeah!” There were several other tugs that gave us a honk and a wave. Despite being a commercial portion of the river, it was a friendly portion of the river.

Among the barges one was flying a flag from Louisiana State University. That, along with the fact that there were once again some leaves on trees, confirmed that we were on the right track. We still had over 1,000 miles to go, but we were making southbound progress.

When Kobie and I stopped to have lunch on a sandbank we were able to see just how fast the river was flowing. More impressive was a tug coming upriver that was pushing 23 barges, each 200’ x 35’. The configuration was 5,5,5,4,4 and it was impressive in size.

In the afternoon Kobie and I had a good talk about the future of the trip, how we would have to make some serious time if we are going to finish by the end of the year. We had some ideas to get back on our old schedule of rising in the dark, taking a shorter lunch breaks and paddling until dark to stretch our daily mileage. While I am not limited by time, Kobie is. While that isn’t much fun as we will have to cut out some of the interesting things we had planned along the way, I don’t want Kobie to have this trip unfinished. I know how I feel about still having some of the Appalachian Trail to tackle and even though I was only barely able to physically walk, I wouldn’t want to wish that feeling of having an trip being incomplete on anyone. We would have to average about 30 miles a day to finish in time.

Having had our good talk about making time, we decided to head into town to resupply and take the day off for Thanksgiving as our one last big rest before making a seriously concerted effort to cover distance. We couldn’t decide as to what town we should hit to resupply and finally decided on Crystal City, MO as it was larger than some others. With the river current we overshot the boat ramp by a good distance and wound up having to once again paddle against the current. We finished the day with an average speed of 5.6 miles per hour, nearly a full mile per hour over our previous high.

As we got out at the boat ramp I spotted a truck from the local water utility pulling up to the dock, so I gave a wave. I figured a person working for a local utility would have intimate knowledge of the layout of the city, so I ran up to ask about town. Better than just telling me where I can find what, John gave me a map of the area and highlighted all the important stuff. As I thanked him and was walking back down to the boats, another fellow, Dave, pulled down the ramp and asked what we were looking for. After explaining the situation he reaffirmed the original information I had received. While still speaking to Dave, John came back as said he would give us a lift to town if we could fit our kayaks on his service truck. We couldn’t. John didn’t stop there as he said he would go get another truck.

While John was picking up the other truck, Dave mentioned that he might be able to set us up with a ride on Friday morning. Nice.

John gave us a lift to a motel and had to get the truck back so we unloaded without having confirmation that we could find a room. Room they had, but were almost indignant when I asked about a place to store the kayaks. While I was initially taken aback about the attitude of the woman, it is a numbers game. We have met so many amazing people that have been so helpful we were bound to run into someone that may have just been having a bad day.

While it would have been nice to have been settled, we were told it was a short walk to a small group of motels. As we were getting out our kayak carts Kobie realized that he was missing a wheel. That was going to be a problem. We were in the middle of town on the evening before Thanksgiving, so if the wheel didn’t turn up, there was little chance of finding a replacement. It was hard enough finding tires alone, now we also needed the hub. Kobie tried a tire shop which was closed and the local K-Mart, but came out empty handed. We decided the best course of action would be for me to go and get us set up with a place to stay and then come back with one of the tires form my cart so we could then get Kobie’s kayak to the motel.

I walked down the main road, a two lane highway with businesses on each side. There was no sidewalk leaving me to switch into four wheel drive, rolling over grass and jumping curbs to make my way down the road, dodging turning cars the entire time. I had to switch highways, which was a nightmare. I put a strobe light on the back of the kayak so that traffic would be able to spot it. I had to switch speed to dodge traffic, at times moving at a full run across heavily used roads. I was in a game of Frogger. It really didn’t help that it was five o’clock on the night before Thanksgiving. The day began with traffic and ended with traffic, just different kinds.

I was stopped on the side of the highway by the local police. He didn’t really understand what I was doing as he kept asking where my car was. He ran a check on me and called the station in the event there were any other calls about some nutcase pulling a kayak along the side of the highway. After a finger waggling that I didn’t have any light on the kayak he said I had an ill advised plan and sent me on my way. I had, or at least I thought I had the strobe on the back of the kayak, but it must have fallen off.

Two miles from the first motel I found some new digs at the Comfort Inn, Festus. The woman working the desk did all she could to find a place to store a couple of 17 foot kayaks, which ended up being an auxiliary breakfast room. It involved carrying the kayaks through the lobby, but it worked for me. I hurriedly unpacked everything from my kayak and left the boat leaned up against the front of the motel as I couldn’t get it in by myself. I grabbed a wheel from the cart and ran to get back to where Kobie was waiting.

I got back to Kobie with the wheel and we made our way to the motel with his kayak. We were able to find a route that kept us off the highway half the way to the motel and I couldn’t have been more relieved when we got there, put our kayaks in the breakfast room and fell sprawling on the bed.

At the motel we used a photo of us at the boat ramp to deduce that Kobie’s one tire wasn’t strapped down and it must have slid off while making a turn when John gave us a ride in town

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

St Louis, MO

The temperature was barley above freezing, but given some of colder mornings we had been experiencing, it felt warm. And that was despite getting up in the dark. I was just excited to get on the river as a lot was going to happen.

It was a fantastic morning paddling as we were able to cover the ten miles to Lock and Dam # 26, better known as Mel Price Lock, named after a long serving Congressman, in no time. There was no waiting but better than that was the information we had received from the fellow working the lock. Up ahead there was an area of the river known as the Chain of Rocks. There was an eight mile canal that circumvented the area which all motorized river traffic must use, but we thought perhaps that it might be a little sterile for our taste. The lock worker informed us though that we would be dealing with whitewater and rapids should we take the Chain of Rocks. Discretion being the better part of valor, we opted to paddle the boring canal.

I guess we should have realized that with a name like Chain of Rocks, there might be a few rocks. Then again, among other misnomers I have been to a town called Lakeview, OR which had no lake view to speak of.

As soon as we got through the lock it was a changed, far more commercial river. There were tugs pushing barges or running about to go collect them.

It was only another six miles to the beginning of the canal, so we were able to muddle through the traffic. Also just prior to entering the canal the Missouri river met with the Mississippi. Like all the other rivers feeding into whichever river we were paddling, it was underwhelming. We hoped there would be a big kick in the river, but it never materialized. Our one last hope was that after we passed through the next lock, which was the last on the Mississippi, the current would pick up. If nothing else the river color changed though as the river water now looked like a cup of coffee, with milk and two sugars.

We weren’t sure what to expect going through the canal, so we stopped for some lunch prior to entering. There was an area on my map just prior to the canal labeled Lewis and Clark State Park. Getting out of the water near the park was a chore in itself as it was nearly all mud. The park was little more than a large boulder with a plaque fastened to it describing the expedition of Lewis and Clark as well as two garbage cans. The park was hardly worthy of the name.

We entered the channel and it barely seemed wide enough for two barges to pass one another without making sparks, much less if there were two kayakers in the canal as well. The water flow in the canal was nonexistent as it was a canal. There was the final lock of the Mississippi River eight miles ahead at the end. The math was easy as to the run of the river. However many feet we were lowered by the lock divided by the eight miles would be the rise of the river in that section.

There was zero traffic in the canal as we covered eight miles in just under two hours. In arriving at Lock and Dam # 27 I radioed to see what the story was. It seemed that northbound barges were lined up five deep but I couldn’t see any barges that wanted to go south. It was also the only Lock and Dam that actually had two working locks instead of just the one. As we didn’t pass through a lock yesterday we were making up for it today by clearing Locks 26 and 27. The lock said they would hold one of the downward locks for us as they we busy bringing boats up. One of the captains south of the lock was audibly annoyed that the lock was going to wait the 5 or 10 minutes for us, but he had to bring the lock down anyway, so might as well do it with two kayakers in it.

We had to wait for the lock to take us down as the other lock was coming up, but eventually we passed through the last Lock and Dam on the Mississippi River. The river looped around to the right and rejoined the river that flowed through the Chain of Rocks. As I looked where the two sections of the river joined I noticed a highly discernable difference in the flow of water, as in significantly faster. I pointed the area of water out to Kobie and as we hit the water Kobie called out our speed: 4.1, 4.7, 5.4, 5.9, 6.7 and finally topping off at 7.4 miles per hour. I knew we couldn’t keep that pace, but it was sure nice to have it as we were pulling into St. Louis.

Traffic on the river was intense. I had to have my head on a swivel scanning the water for boat traffic. I also wasn’t used to moving forward at such a pace, having to gauge how far I needed to move to the side versus how far the river pushed me forward. I laughed as I passed a bridge piling at what looked like an impossible speed.

The river curved around to the right with tall buildings shooting up from the bank. As we rounded the bend we saw the stainless steel icon of St. Louis, The Gateway Arch. It was a milestone for this trip and a big one for me mentally as it reinforced that we were moving south.

We met Tony at the Arch and even having never met him before I doubt he had any trouble picking us out. As he was also to be picking up Mindi from the airport we had to hustle. Tony dropped us off at his place so we could get cleaned up while he went to grab Mindi at the airport.

As we drove into the city the price for a gallon of gas dropped to a low of $1.43. $1.43! There was a Wall Street analyst that early this year called for the price of a barrel of oil under $50. He was generally derided at the time, but now is probably laughing all the way to the bank.

Tony and Mindi returned from the airport and we went for dinner at a restaurant called Iron Barley.
I recommend the Peanut Butter Blaster for dessert. We ended the night back at Tony’s place and talked travel before turning in.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Trouble in Grafton

I could begin by explaining the photo on the right, but I won’t.

I was woken up at least a dozen times in the middle of the night by some bird that was chirking away. It could have been a Guinea Hen or pheasant, I don’t know. The only thing I do know is that it kept me up half the night. The bird finally gave up at first light, but without missing a moment in time a rafter of turkey took over in keeping me awake, gobbling away. Just wait Mr. Turkey, Thanksgiving is only a few short days away.

The temperature barely dipped into the 30’s overnight and made for a warm morning despite it being completely overcast.

As I was paddling away from our chosen island of the night I noticed a “No Trespassing” sign just a little further down from where we camped. Oops. I didn’t see that last night.

As Kobie and I got out on the river, the wind was blowing a steady 20 miles per hour with gusts to 30 out of the northwest. I just wasn’t having fun. Not only that but I had absolutely no energy whatsoever. I don’t know if it was because I was up all night listening to the unrequested music stylings of some bird, lack of nutrition or that it was just another overcast day on the river, but I had no gas in the tank.

To start the day paddling we had a beam sea, that is with waves coming from the side. I don’t mind a head wind as the waves it causes are face on, but when the waves are coming from the side, it takes so much concentration and effort to try to keep the waves from jumping over the combing of my kayak and into my lap. I just didn’t have the energy for it this morning.

We were still low on water, so we pulled in a marina that appeared closed. Kobie went to check it out and came back with thumbs up, as in we could fill our water bottles. I got out of my kayak and as the guy working the marina helped fill our bottles, he asked if we needed any snacks. We had mentioned that we were also looking for a place that sold food. While he didn’t have any food for sale, he did have a box of granola bars and gave us the whole lot.

We left the marina and that small act of kindness was all I needed to give me the energy to paddle on. As it turned out, the clouds also dissipated, leaving a blue sky above us. The wind was still howling, but now it hardly seemed as bad. It could also have been that we were able to use some of the islands in the river as shelter, but the wind seemed trivial.

As we were still light on food despite have a stash of granola bars, Kobie and I thought we would press our luck and stop at a restaurant a little further down river to see if there was anything in the vicinity. While the restaurant was closed, there was a truck waiting to catch a ferry across the river. The driver of the car said that we could find a store in the town of Grafton, IL another 10 or so miles up the river.

I am surprised to see as many ferries as on the river as I have. I thought the day of the car ferry was long over, but apparently not. I can only surmise that it just wouldn’t be economically viable, or even structurally feasible to build bridges spanning the river in certain areas. This ferry was quite clever as the tug was hinged on the side of the barge so that it could simply pivot when it needed to turn around. As the tug has to stay down river of the barge so that it can push against the current, it is the perfect solution.

Paddling past a small town I noticed that many of the houses were decorated for Christmas with wreathes and lights hanging outside. Seeing that made me want to be someplace with people for Thanksgiving. As our schedule is tight, we don’t really have the option to take a few days off, but who knows where we will be several days hence.

I hadn’t really noticed until the wind was smack dab in my face that we were actually paddling northeast. It would force us to take a longer route, passing behind islands on the river, but at least we were able to tuck out of the wind for the remainder of the morning.

We followed the directions of the fellow in the car waiting for the ferry on how to navigate through the islands to the town of Grafton, IL. Just before arriving in town we also past the confluence of the Illinois River. The river did nothing to add to the current of the Mississippi as it was relatively small and was in any event dammed. Also en route we spotted a barge and crane building a stone retaining wall near one of the islands, dumping load after load of boulders on the shore.

Arriving in Grafton we loaded our kayaks on their wheels for the walk through town to see what was available. The town seemed to have many craft type shops as well as boutiques. It reminded me of any number of summer towns lining the coast of New England. In the distance we saw an Amoco station and figured that would have all that we needed to get us a few days further up the river. We picked up a few supplies as well as a couple of pizzas and sandwiches to have while sitting on the curb of the gas station. It must have been over 50 degrees sitting in the sun and being out of the wind made it that much sweeter.

Grafton was named after the town of the same name in New Hampshire. It was named by James Mason who had received a land grant in 1832 for a large parcel which included most of Quarry Township and the 4.1 square miles that is now Grafton. Mr. Mason noted that the nearby town of Otterville, in a produce growing region would need a place along the river from which to ship their goods. Grafton was born.

Grafton was hard hit in the flood of 1993, having recorded water at flood stage for 195 days! The flood caused the population to decline by one third and had since still not recovered.

As I was finishing my ice cream a police officer pulled up. It turned out that he is also a paddler and is considering paddling the Missouri River from its source to the Mississippi River. He just seemed like a down to earth guy and was fun to talk to. It seems rare to find a law enforcement officer that is just a down to earth good guy.

We spent a little longer in Grafton than planned, but it was an uplifting experience, not least of which that we chowed down a bunch of gas station food and got to take a funny photo. Our stop in Grafton put me in such a good mood. It added the fun into he day that was sorely lacking when it began.

From Grafton on, along the river in Illinois the landscape changed to large limestone cliffs, some up to several hundred feet high. Kobie commented that they weren’t nearly as high as the white cliffs of Dover, near where he was born in the UK. Also in the cliffs were large caves. I wouldn’t mind happening across on of those caves on an evening where there was precipitation in the forecast.

On the final stretch of the day we had the wind and hence the waves solidly at our backs. The conditions presented the opportunity to do a little Mississippi river surfing. It really wasn’t much different than any other times we had surfed our kayaks on this trip, it was just on a bigger scale. We were able to kick up our speed to nearly nine miles per hour! That is a new record for me in a touring kayak. It also made the last eight miles of the day zip right by.

As we were in camp, I called Tony, a friend of a friend that lives in St. Louis who we were hoping to stay with, as our projection of how far we could paddle tomorrow would leave us smack dab in the middle of the city. As it turned out, my friend, Mindi, would be flying to St. Louis tomorrow night.

As usual we found ourselves an island in the middle of the river that would be relatively bird free. The river must have been completely underwater in the flood earlier this year as it was rife with garbage scattered across it. I was able to rummage a bucket and some large blocks of Styrofoam that Kobie and I were able to use as chairs as we sat near the fire and planned our attack on St. Louis, less then thirty miles down river.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Low Water Supply

While it was cold, I was surprised to not find another layer of ice on the inside of my tent. Everything was damp though making me thing about the dew point. The dew point very basically relates to the level of water saturation in air. The dew point number that you might hear is the temperature that air must be cooled to for water vapor to condense into water, leav ing behind, well, dew. There are some other factors but you get the idea.

Dew point also has a relationship with relative humidity as the higher the relative humidity, the closer the dew point is to the current temperature. A relative humidity of 100% means that the dew point is the current temperature. It’s when the dew point temperature falls below freezing that frost is produced. An affliction I am all to familiar with on this trip

What I also noticed was that sand had made its way into everything. Camping on sandy islands make for a soft bed, but the sand just gets everywhere. I guess it is still better than the mud on the Red River.

I didn’t have the most stellar of mornings. For starters my tent poles froze together, which took more than a little work to free. Then as I was getting in my kayak on a shallow bank one of my gloves blew in the water. As if that wasn’t enough, when I reached in the water to get my glove, my hiking boots which I put on my deck in anticipation of putting them in a hatch, fell in as well. Next up as I paddled away, my skeg was once again frozen, so I did without that and to round things off I got myself stuck on two separate sandbars just trying to get away from the island.

We were running low on our supply of water and were hoping to find someplace to fill up so we paddled across the river to towards the town of Hamburg, IL. As we were crossing the channel a 1,000 foot barge was making it s way up river. As I wasn’t having the greatest start to the day I decided to let the barge pass instead of play chicken with it, as getting run down by a barge would have done nothing to improve my outlook on the day. I was rather frustrated.

We weren’t in dire straits for water but it feels better to have a reserve. We could always boil the river water, though with the black water stains that it leaves on everything it touches, I’m not so sure I would like to We paddled past the town and didn’t see anything in the way of businesses open, so we continued on. It was too early to start knocking on doors on a Sunday morning.

The sky was clear and the day was warming up nicely. As the sun rose higher in the sky and melted the ice off my deck bag, it seemed to have the additional effect of melting away my annoyance of the morning. It was just a fun morning paddling. When I stopped to chat with Kobie I was unpleasantly surprised that we were only averaging 3.5 miles per hour. It felt at least like five. The south wind, while brining in warm air, was impeding our progress.

We had an early lunch on a sandbar and dried out our sleeping bags and tents. It seems that my shorts get completely soaked each day by lunchtime leaving me to dine in my underwear as I attempt to dry them out. When leaving the island I figured that my shorts would just get wet again so I decided to leave them off and paddle without them. As I was covered in my kayak no one would be on to me.

The Lock of the day was number 25. I didn’t realize that they do not monitor the same radio frequency as the previous locks do. It took me a couple of minutes and a few requests on the wrong frequency to get someone. In congested areas, the locks have to use different radio frequencies so as to prevent confusion of radio messages.

We were hoping that someone would be around and perhaps they could fill a water bottle for us. It seems though that the people working the locks are much different in the southern locks than the northern ones. Up north the people working the locks are friendly, almost campy whereas down south it is a much more industrial river and it is everything we can do to just get them to open the lock doors a third of the way to let us in and out. Some of the locks only opened the doors part of the way allowing us enough room to sneak in with a small buffer on each side.

Leaving the southern end of the lock it felt to me like the Mississippi River. The river widened further and there was considerable barge traffic, although thankfully not near the lock when we were passing through.

The afternoon was as warm as I could have expected. It was the first day in a long time that I was able to wear my visor instead of my wool hat. I was also able to leave the gloves in my day hatch and feel the carbon of my paddle on my hands. I could almost get used to this.

In the afternoon we made another effort to obtain some water by asking a gent on the side of the river that we had struck up a conversation with. He was hard hit in the flood and was waiting for his house to be lifted on stilts so he didn’t have running water, but did have a 25 gallon jug full that he was happy to share. It was just another instance of people being as kind as could be on this trip.

Just past our water fill up I spotted the first confederate flag of the trip, so it reinforced that we were heading south.

It clouded over late in the day; it was perfect. It was sunny all day and then cloud cover come in to hold in the warm air. We paddled later than usual to try and get in at least 25 miles, which we barely missed having had to fight the wind all day, but it was nice to get to camp and not to have to throw all my clothes on just to keep warm as I watch all the water on my kayak turn to ice. I stayed in my shorts while setting up camp and were I to not have dunked my shoe in the river probably wouldn’t have wanted a fire.

At camp my computer battery died so it gave me time to sort through some things and take care of a few of the mundane tasks that have to be done. As I got everything squared away and crawled into my tent it started raining. It only rained for a few minutes, but I was safely inside. Kobie was not so lucky as he was rudely interrupted while answering natures call.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Tough Day

Surprisingly it was a little warmer than the night previous. I almost took off a layer of clothes when I woke up in the middle of the night…almost. It was also another morning of rifle blasts. I really hope these people are shooting at multiple deer, because I always seem to hear more than one shot at a time. They can’t all be that bad a shot.

Just as we were getting our kayaks in the water in the morning we noticed a barge coming past. It was also a 1,000 foot barge, meaning that it would have to be sent through the lock in two sections, taking up to an hour for it to pass through in its entirety. As we don’t paddle much slower than the barges it would also meant that we would have to wait of it at the lock.

While the mercury proved that it was in fact a higher temperature today, yesterday with the sun shining on us felt much, much warmer. As it was completely overcast it felt every bit as cold as the upper 30’s that were slated for the day. I know it was colder than that and in the freezing territory in the morning as my skeg froze in place preventing me from deploying it. On calm water with little current it isn’t much of an issue as I can control the boat rather easily. It is on those days where the wind decides to blow where it is most useful in keeping me going in the direction I would like.

It was a disheartening start to the day as when I pulled off the land and was immediately blown upriver. Even the current wasn’t strong enough to counteract the wind.

It seems that were on par hitting one lock a day and as the US Army Corp of Engineers neglected to include a Lock # 23 we were skipping from Lock # 22 yesterday to Lock 24 today. It seemed that the wind held us up just enough to give the barge we saw in the morning time to pass though the lock. The back section was still in the lock, but we only had a 10 minute wait. As we waited we hid behind a concrete section of the dam to get out of the wind. The day was almost tolerable out of the wind. It wasn’t like the wind we had on Lake Pepin, but it was just enough to make the temperature drop to an uncomfortable level, not to mention have the cold air in our faces the whole day. On the up side though, the south wind was supposed to bring some warmer temperatures for tomorrow.

Just after the lock was the town of Clarksville, MO. I didn’t quite follow the advice of the musical group the Monkeys and take the last train there, but Kobie and I thought it would be an ideal place to get off the river and inside someplace to warm up and have lunch. We aren’t picky, we would have settled for some gas station pizza or a sandwich, but the town had nothing on offer at least in view from the river. There was a lovely gate with the town name emblazoned on a sign atop it, but not so much as a gas station. Its not like we were looking for a Michelin Rated three star restaurant, we were looking for pretty much, well, anything.

By early afternoon we were getting hungry and I had absolutely no interest whatsoever in getting out of my kayak. It is usually my fingers or toes that are cold and in this case they were, but my core was cold as well. The day was becoming less fun. Lunch consisted of a cold can of soup, consumed while sitting in our kayaks.

It was just a tough day on the water. This wasn’t what the brochure for the trip said it would be all about. Seriously though, I knew full well there were be many tough days on this trip and today was certainly one of them. As Kobie had a fixed flight in early January we don’t have the to option to make it an early day if we are going to get down to the Gulf before Kobie has to fly out.

I was ready to be done by two in the afternoon, but we pushed on for a couple more hours. With hunting season in full swing we needed to be cognizant of where we camped as it was possible that there would be hunters on the island. We had seen more than a dozen hunters during the day and while the hunting day ends at dusk, they would be back before down in the morning. We settled on an island that was mostly sand. There was plenty of tree cover but it took Kobie nearly an hour to get his tent set up in the soft sand, having to dig deadmen into the ground.

We ended our night as we seem to most nights now, sitting around a campfire talking about how the trip will progress from here. Our next obstacle was St. Louis as there will be little in the way of places to camp should we have to end our day near the city proper.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Warm Weather? Bueller? Bueller?

I remember a time about a month back when the temperature was in the 30’s and I commented how I was hoping that I wouldn’t see the 20’s. That mark was eclipsed last night as the temperature of 14 degrees was closer to single digits than the 20’s. Not only was there ice on the inside of my tent but there was a crust of ice on the upper part of my new sleeping bag as well. While missing out on a warm day paddling, at this point I was glad I waited in Quincy, IL for my new sleeping bag. People have asked in the past how I stay warm at night and my new answer is: spend nearly $400 on a sleeping bag. I was warm the night through. What’s the price for warmth, really?

I hadn’t really thought about it since, but when I heard dozens of rifle shots before even exiting my tent, I remembered someone telling me that it was the opening day of deer hunting season for rifles. While I wasn’t concerned being on the water, we would have to be cognizant of any hunters along the river when choosing a campsite for the night.

The sky was clear and the rays of the sun motivated me to get packed and on the river. With my mother working in the dental industry I always try to practice good dental hygiene, however this morning I had to pass on brushing my teeth as all of my water had frozen. There was no wind to speak of and the river looked as it was running well, so other than being cold we didn’t have much else to contend with.

As we paddled along we were surprised by a massive explosion. It wasn’t any type of firearm as not only was the sound louder, but we both felt the shockwave from the blast. We looked around but didn’t notice any black plumes of smoke or anything else out of the ordinary, so we assumed that there was a quarry in the vicinity that had done some blasting. If I wasn’t awake up until that point, I was now.

While the day didn’t seem to get out of the 20’s it was quite pleasant when paddling. As expected on a cold but pleasant day, when we approached Lock and Dam # 22, we were signaled straight in and sent on our way.

We stopped for lunch on a large sandbar, formed from sand dredged by the US Army Corp of Engineers. As we exited our kayaks we noticed a downed log that had a complete coat of ice on it. Not only was the tree covered but there were numerous puddles that were frozen solid. When out of my kayak and exposed to the outside air, there was no question, I was cold. . It was worse still when even the slightest wisp of wind puffed. Kobie and I hastily constructed a couple of sandwiches while we pulled out our sleeping bags to hopefully dry from the condensation that collected and froze overnight. Lunch was an abbreviated affair, leaving me with cold toes, despite wearing three pairs of socks.

In the afternoon when we began looking at our options to camp we found that we had to either stop immediately or paddle seven miles further to find another island. As we weren’t going to make seven miles in the remaining hour of daylight we called our day to an end. We were right next to an island that was fine with us, but as I got to shore I saw a series of footprints, presumably from hunter. Kobie and I scouted a section of the island and found nary a soul so we decided it would be our home for the night.

It seems that with so little daylight to work with that we are paddling half days. I think I spend more time gathering fire wood and setting up and taking down my tent than I do paddling. I expected to be a little further along than this by now, but in any event I wished that we could find a few extra hours in the day to paddle. I had considering paddling in the dark, but our kayaks our not equipped with the proper lights for us to be on the water before dawn or after dusk safely, or legally for that matter. Perhaps further south we will once again have the motivation to get up in dark and get on the water when it is just barely light enough to see.

The evening almost seemed warmer than the one previous. Regardless, we set up one of our best fires yet, where we were able to lean against a downed tree and have dinner. I even heated up a can of soup rather than eat it cold. After relaxing by the fire we retreated to our respective tents and snuggled in for another cold night.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

New Gear, Short Day

So we had forgone a day of paddling in 60 degree temperatures with perfectly sunny skies. What I awoke to today was completely overcast skies, 20 to 30 mile per hour winds and according to the local weather, a temperature of 34 that feels like 27. It hardly seems like a good trade off waiting for my new sleeping bag.

As I was again waiting for UPS to arrive, it gave me a chance to check out the news. While I don’t think I would have made the call that oil would drop to below $50 dollars a barrel, I knew that $147, the all time high, was way overvalued. Another good tidbit was that jobless claims were at a 16 year high. If I was thinking about going back to work, now would certainly not be the time.

I sat in the motel lobby like a kid on Christmas morning waiting for his present. Shortly before mid day, Santa Claus in a brown UPS suit had my package. I traded him the incorrect one right away. I had a tense couple of minutes walking back to the room hoping the right sleeping bag was inside. It was. I gave it the quick once over to ensure there were no egregious defects in the material or workmanship. For $360 it should have a built in heater.

We packed up the boats and checked out. Kobie waited while I ran to the post office to send off my old sleeping bag (I took the belt and braces approach) and shortly thereafter we were off. It was far easier going down hill than when we had to come up two days prior.

When we arrived at he boat ramp there were waves breaking upon it. The wind was out of the northwest, which would be beneficial, but would still want to shove us to the side of the river. As we got out on the river I had a case of sensory overload. We were paddling all over the show as random waves were throwing us about and had three tugs to contend with, on each front left and right and one coming from behind. It was the busiest little section of river we had been on. After making several changes in course, we wound up taking the least logical by staying right in the main channel. The tugs were moving barges along the sides of the river, so the middle was the safest place for us to be

It seems like we are traversing through one lock a day. Lock and Dam # 21 had a northbound double length barge just entering the south side, so we were advised that the wait would be in the 45 minute range. It made sense that we would have to wait as it was cold, windy and generally undesirable to be sitting in the middle of the river bobbing up and down like a cork.

I inquired about portaging around the dam, but was given the negative, with the caveat that as they were doing construction on the dam and it may be possible on the Missouri side of the river. As Kobie and I had nothing to do, we decided that it would be in our best interest to check it out. The worst case scenario would be that we would find no way to portage and we would have to paddle back. At least it would have kept us occupied and generating body heat.

It would have been impossible to see the edge of the dam were it not the feeding ground for a number of birds perched along it. There was very little current, so I had no fear of being pushed over the dam and as it was, the top of the dam was wide enough to drive a truck across.

We followed the dam to the shore and saw a potential way to portage, but the small section of river that ran along the dam was blocked by a large prickly shrub that had fallen halfway into the water from the eroding bank. I managed to poke the nose of my kayak through the bush and swat away some branches with my paddle. Kobie came behind and had intended to hold some of the branches out of the way as I paddled through but instead he was poked in the eye by a twig and kept drifting forward, the nose of his kayak hitting me square in the left elbow. I didn’t really need that, but I guess Kobie got even for when I jabbed him in the ribs with the nose of my kayak back on the Red River.

We were able to get he kayaks over the dam and back in the water on the south side of the dam. One benefit of having paddled to this side of the river is that it left us on the proper side of the river to hide from the wind. While several miles south of the lock & dam I saw the second half of the initial barge being pushed out of the north side of the lock, so our decision to portage was a time saver, though my hands were now bitter cold.

As we only started paddling shy of two o’clock it was an extremely short day, but even so we managed to get 12 miles downriver including having to portage. We choose a nice island and as soon as we exited the river anything that was wet froze. Even the elastic cords that hold things down on our kayaks were no longer elastic, but rather solid frozen rope. My water shoes were a brick within five minutes of taking them off.

We made ourselves a nice little campfire to dry out our gear and warm ourselves up. As we were sitting around the fire I noticed stars up above. It gave me hope the next day would be sunny if not warm.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Day of Delay

I was up early as usual, but couldn’t fall back asleep as I kept thinking about my package that was supposed to have been delivered yesterday. We had breakfast and packed our kayaks before checking for the package at 10 AM. It hadn’t arrived. It was so frustrating first that the bag didn’t arrive yesterday as it should have and secondly that it wasn’t looking like it would arrive before noon, the second deadline.

I also had the opportunity to try and get a new strap for my kayak seat and the map we would need for the lower Mississippi River. I should have known better as I was dealing with the US Army Corp of Engineers. It took no fewer than 15 phone calls to determine that I couldn’t get the maps without first having to send them a check. A check? I was going to have to break my string of writing only one check per quarter, each for my health insurance.

The second deadline for the arrival of my package was fast approaching. It was only at 11:30 that the package showed up. I got it back to the room to examine my new sleeping bag, but it was the wrong size! They had sent me a long version, so that if I was six foot six, I would be good. It just wasn’t my day.

I immediately called about having the wrong bag sent and the fellow I spoke to was extremely helpful. He gave me the option to use this bag until I got somewhere I could have the proper one shipped or to sit tight and they would send out the new bag to arrive in the morning. In any case they would cover all the shipping, knock 10% off the price of the bag and pick up the motel cost. I found it amusing that all the people I spoke to threw around words such as; dude, bummer and sweet. While the company I ordered the bag from went above and beyond on the financial aspect of the arrangement, the one thing they couldn’t ever give me back was the day and a half I will have been waiting for the bag. Which brings me to the next thing.

It was sunny and 60 degrees. 60 degrees! The high for yesterday didn’t break out of the 30’s and today I was sitting around waiting for a sleeping bag, while it was 60 degrees and sunny. Did I mention 60 degrees? I just know it won’t be nearly as warm tomorrow or possibly any other day until the end of the trip.

In the time off it gave Kobie and I a chance to walk around Quincy, IL and admire its history. The history of the town dates back to around 1822, when a man by the name of John Wood was checking out the land in the area that had been doled out by the government as reward for soldiers from the war of 1812.

Other settlers began occupying their land grants and shortly thereafter the area became vibrant in commercial goods, being home to many flour and saw mills. Many German immigrants also settled in Quincy, having come up river from New Orleans.

One of the aspects of the history of the city of Quincy was that it was a northern stop of the Underground Railroad for slaves making their way to freedom in Canada. Missouri, just across the river being a slave state made the use of a river town in Illinois, a free state that much more important. It is all about location.
The town also seems to be proud of the fact that the sixth of the seven Abraham Lincoln / Stephan Douglass 1858 Senate debates took place here.

I also noticed that we were punching into a new sports zone. The signs and bumper stickers rooting for the Twins, Vikings and Wild were switching to the Cardinals, Rams and Blues.

While the day would have been perfect to paddle, the wind picked up in the evening and it grew colder. It was nice that we were forced to stand pat on a day of 60 degree temperatures as it was supposed to only barely break 40 tomorrow. Sweet.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Quincy, IL

It was the coldest night of the trip, the mercury pushing down to 18 degrees overnight. If I was talking Celsius, that wouldn’t be so bad, but no, it is Fahrenheit. There was ice frozen to the inside of my tent from the condensation of my breath. I woke to a combination of a deer grunting, a barge passing by and the cold. While I wasn’t particularly fond of the idea of getting out of my sleeping bag, we had already slept longer than usual and had to get paddling.

If I am forced to stick to the title of my previous days post, I would be required to cede my Kingdom, or lack thereof. The sky was blue without so much as a hint of white; the morning was as glorious as could be imagined. I was cold and I was able to see my breath, but that was going to be a constant throughout the day as the temperature wouldn’t climb out of the 30’s

It is days such as this one that gives me hope for it being the end of the rain & cold, but I am sure that isn’t going to be the case. I checked the weather radio and didn’t get much of a signal, but made out “16 degrees” among the garbled sound. I was hoping I was picking up a signal from up north. Way up north.

There was only the slightest wisp of south wind barely rippling the water. It hardly seemed as if we were on the Mississippi River at all. It could have been a lake as still and quiet as it was. The first sign of life we evidenced on the river was a US Army Corp of Engineers barge blocking the entire channel of the river to dredge sand from the river bottom. They were still trying to build up one of the levees that washed away back in June.

Lock and Dam # 20 was non-event as we were able to paddle right on in, descend the five or six feet and continue on our way. The lockmaster told as about the flood damage in the area from the late spring. He mentioned that waster was running over the dam and pointed out the high water mark on the lock building.

After leaving the dam, as is usually the case the water was choppy for the next half mile. The water remains turbulent coming through the dam, but in this instance we weren’t so sure if it would continue. Fortunately though the river flattened, giving us a smooth finish to cut through as we paddled.

Also just south of the Lock we had to dodge the Canton Ferry which shuttles vehicular and cargo traffic across the river. The ferry was started in 1844 bringing wagons across the Mississippi that were heading west. While today the ferry was bringing across a couple of trucks, I thought about what it would have been like to be a Forty-Niner, heading west in search of gold and better fortunes. Now that is adventure. The two 195 horsepower V-6 diesel engines on the present day ferry would have been two horses walking on treadmills connected to paddlewheels. It would have cost me ten cents to cross the river on foot, or 50 cents with a Team and Wagon. A Bald Eagle flying overhead snapped me back to the present.

The wind picked up to the five to ten mile per hour range just as we were about to stop for lunch. The temperature was 36, but tolerable in the shining rays of the sun. When we got caught in a breeze though the weather dropped to about 29 with the wind-chill. The wind just affects what we do every day to such an extent that it I find it almost more important than other weather factors. As I am a finance/numbers guys I figured I would throw out the formula for calculating wind chill as presented by the National Weather Service. The formula looks something like this:

Wind Chill = 35.74 + 0.6215A - 35.75 (W0.16) + 0.4275A (W0.16)

where A = Air Temperature and W = wind speed in MPH

Or you could just use a table that gives a good estimation of the wind chill adjusted temperature using the two variables. I was just hoping that with the southern wind warmer temperatures were in the offing.

While we stopped for lunch I had a few phone calls to make and it seems that I have been having a rough time with gear. Among other calls I rang the place I ordered my new sleeping bag from to confirm it would arrive this afternoon. I was told that there are a number of notes regarding my order with the last one being that they forgot to ship it. That being the case they were going to overnight my sleeping bag, but it meant that it wouldn’t arrive in Quincy, IL until tomorrow; a town that we had intended on passing this afternoon. We had no choice but to spend the night in Quincy and wait for my bag to arrive “sometime before noon” tomorrow.

Once we knew that we would be in a town and only had a half dozen miles to go we stepped on the gas. The river was running harder than it had been helping us along, but we gave it a little extra as well.

There was a boat ramp right near the center of town with numerous motel options a short walk from the river. While the walk was less than half a mile, we did have to climb a steep hill. No less than a half a dozen people made some sort of comment like “that looks like a workout”, or “You realize it is November 18th”. It was a great day on the river though. I would take a week of November 18th’s over a single October 22nd.

It seems that on the river things in the distance don’t take nearly as long to reach as they did previously. We are moving faster as evidenced by the fact that even in a relatively short day we still knocked off 28 miles, clocking our highest daily average moving speed to date at just under five miles per hour.

We settled into a hotel where we were able to slide the kayaks right into our room with only a little rearranging of the furniture. We got cleaned up and walked out into downtown Quincy, IL.

Went for a walk looking for something to eat and were directed to an Irish Pub by an inhabitant of the town. So we ended up at O’Griffs stuffing our faces, rinsing our food down with a few microbrews. As we were eating we were recognized by a guy who saw us pull our kayaks up the hill. The fellow worked for the US Army Corp of Engineers. He worked for the vegetation division or some such thing. I would never have guessed that the Corp was in charge of the vegetation along the river. Our tax dollars being spent.

Getting back to the motel I checked the status of my expected shipment and realized that it wasn’t slated to get there prior to noon, but rather before the end of the day. It may only end up being a few hours difference, but to us that is all the world.

Monday, November 17, 2008

My Kingdom for a Sunny Day

The temperature was below freezing upon waking but my tent was mostly dry both inside and out. By the time we got on the river it had warmed slightly, but only enough to turn the precipitation from snow to sleet and freezing rain. At least we had one day without precipitation yesterday.

Early in the day we crossed the river to try and escape the wind as well as cut the corner of the river. The river is starting to get much wider than it had been in that I could now measure it in miles. When getting out in the open water I took a few errant waves in my lap.

Arriving at the other side of the river I saw a half sunken pleasure boat about 20 feet in length. It was only one of the many pieces of debris on the river. Much of the debris falls in the smaller category though such as foam coolers, bits of rope and plastic bottles. While it is not all that pleasant to look at, I honestly thought I would see more in the way of debris on the riverbanks as well as flotsam if not jetsam.

Late in the morning the sun made an hour long appearance from behind the clouds, giving us a tease. When it hid itself again I got a good chill. There was an eight mile section of river where we were on the wrong side with respect to the wind, but as the river was going to turn in that direction and the river was pushing two miles in width, we weren’t about to paddle across to the other side to paddle eight only to have to paddle two moles back across. As the wind had two miles of a run up before reaching us, we were buffeted by both the wind as well as the waves it created.

After the eight mile section of river the river turned so that the wind was at our back. When I saw the sun once again peek out I thought that our fortunes had turned. Shortly thereafter though, snow began falling. As undesirable as that was, I still found it infinitely preferable to rain. In the cold weather it is so important to stay dry as water saps heat so quickly.


For lunch we just didn’t have the interest in doing more than quickly eating a cold can of soup. I didn’t even want to undo my spray skirt, much less get out of the kayak. We pulled in a little cover to try and get out of the breeze, but it was of little use.

A short dose of the suns warming rays made me feels as if I was paddling in the South Pacific. When the gap in the clouds closed I was snapped back to the reality of paddling on the Mississippi in mid 30 degree weather

The wind picked up as we approached Lock and Dam #19. When I radioed ahead I heard some laughter on the other end. We were clear to come through and when we pulled in, the guy asked what the heck we were doing paddling at this time of the year.

Lock & Dam # 19 was the most unique of all the locks we had passed through on the Mississippi River, no only as it was the first lock built on the Mississippi, but also that the dam attached is not owned by the US Army Corp of Engineers. It is owned by a local hydroelectric power generation concern. Another thing that makes this lock unique to us was that it was a 36 foot drop, not the usual 10 or so feet. When we entered the lock we were at the level of the road bridge just ahead of us. The lock was Brobdingnadgian in comparison to the other locks through which we had come. Not only was the height of the lock much higher, but it is also 1,200 feet long, twice that of most other locks. The best stat of all though is that it takes an even million gallons of water to fill one foot of the lock, meaning that they had to displace 36 million gallons of water just to float two kayaks down the river. Now that is how I like to see my tax dollars spent.

While the wind was pushing from behind it was still cold. As the day wore on the clouds slowly began clearing, giving the sun rays a clear path to warm my body ever so marginally.

When we arrived at an island that appeared to be an ideal camping spot we saw a Bald Eagle in one of the trees, which we take as a good omen for no particular reason. Looking a little closer there was a cabin on the island, so we had to continue on. Less than a half mile down on the same island we found an area of the river with easy egress as well as a flat area to set up a tent. I didn’t see a single “No Trespassing” sign, so I felt comfortable camping there. While I didn’t believe the cabin to be occupied, even if it were, we had a reasonable distance between us that even with our fire I felt we would go unnoticed.

It was 4:30 and the first time I had gotten out of my kayak since seven that morning. My legs were stiff and I was shivering. As we pulled the kayaks out of the river all the incidental water on it froze in short order.

While a fire warms, so does the process of starting one, or at least collecting fuel for the fire. Running around, quite literally for me mind you, gets my blood flowing and begins the process of warming. On cold, wet days in the kayak I look forward to the end of day fire. It will be nice several weeks hence to have a fire because we want to and not out of necessity to dry our gear.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Half Day

I must have been tired as it was 9:30 when Kobie woke me. I was up until almost three trying to get an update or two posted, but I figured we would be up a little earlier. We just made the 11:00 checkout by the time we got everything packed.

While the trip to the motel was four miles, we were able to cut that nearly in half on the walk back in a much less circuitous manner. Just a word of advice; if you are ever looking to start a conversation, tow a 17 foot kayak behind you. Everyone seems to want to talk, or at he very least make some sort of comment. We had odd bits of conversation with at least a half dozen people on the walk back down to the river, including with an older gentleman who asked the same few questions regarding our trip over and over again. Our route also took us past a convenience store and as late as it was, we figured we might as well stop for lunch before getting on the water.

I think today officially took the title of the latest start of the trip, beginning to paddle shy of one in the afternoon. I didn’t mind as it gave us 24 hours off from paddling since arriving in Burlington. It wasn’t quite a rest day with all the running around we had to do cramming so much in such a short time, but at least we weren’t overexerting ourselves paddling.

As I was tightening one of the straps on the seat of my kayak, the buckle snapped off the strap. At first I was quite angry, but at this point it is what I have come to expect of the poor quality of Wilderness Systems kayaks. I did the best I could to keep the strap tight.

Several people watched us off from the boat ramp below the Mac Arthur Bridge spanning Burlington, IA and Gulf Port, IL. The skies were mostly cloudy, but it was still a big improvement from the last week. We were hoping that we had the worst of the foul weather behind us and if the local meteorologist was to be trusted, it was.

Following the river channel there was a medium current helping us out, allowing us a cruising speed in the upper four mile per hour range. As soon as we got underway a barge came at us forcing us to move outside of the channel reducing our speed. We also had the railroad swing bridge swing close above us after the barge had passed through.

For the last few days my left shin has been hurting. I wouldn’t think that I could sustain a leg injury on a paddle trip, but stranger things have happened. At this point I am not sure if it is related to the same injury I incurred on the Appalachian Trail or not, but either way it isn’t fun. It seems that when I get out of my kayak the symptoms are mollified, but as we head further south and the river opens up, there will be fewer chances to get out of the kayak.

We managed 12 or so miles before running out of camping options downriver, so we ended up on the relatively exposed Grape Island. Just before going ashore I noticed a deer walking along not far from the bank. I tried to drift at its walking speed so that I might catch a glimpse. As I was about to get out my camera the deer came to the river and it was a large 10 or 12 point buck. I hadn’t gotten my camera out, so if I attempted it then, the deer would have run. It was cool to see from 20 feet away. Another thing I spotted on the shore was a Goose decoy. It was much larger than the Mallard duck decoy, but I thought I should try and find as good home for him as well.

One positive thing about Grape Island was that it was rich in firewood. There was an ample supply of downed trees and with the temperature projected to be in the 20’s, going to sleep warm initially would be a good start. While I ordered a new sleeping bag, I haven’t yet arrived in the town where I was to pick it up. My other bag was losing its down insulation at an unacceptable rate. Each morning my tent looks as if someone shot a goose with a shotgun slug and all the remained were the feathers. Being out in the cold all day and then not having a warm sleeping bag to cocoon in isn’t much fun. I don’t always need to be warm, but never being warm is where I draw the line.

Inasmuch as we already had a fire going we cooked up some sausages for dinner. To round out the night Kobie pulled out the marshmallows.