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.

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