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.

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