Thursday, December 18, 2008

Fog, Fog and More Fog

Looking out the window in the morning did nothing to inspire me to get paddling for the day. I knew once I was out on the water everything would be fine, so getting mentally prepared was the main battle. It was fairly warm, but it was foggy to the point where visibility in town was perhaps a couple hundred feet.

Dennis, the gent we met on our walk into town offered up a ride to the river and we jumped at it. Dennis picked us up at the hotel and we threw the kayaks on the roof of his car for the ride down to Warfield Park. As we were getting packed in the car a friend of Dennis’ came by and told me about a 500 pound shark they caught at the mouth of the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico. His advice to me: Don’t celebrate by going for a swim. As far as getting back to the river, was it far easier than on the way in. Thanks Dennis. .

As we got out on the river we could see very little. When I say very little, visibility was in the range of 30 feet. The plan for the day was to be vigilant as it was impingent upon us to spot the barges. The barges would have no possible chance of seeing us on the water. We were hoping to just stick to the shore and stay out of everyone’s way, but of course it wouldn’t work exactly as such.

It also seemed as if I hadn’t been paddling in forever, but the two days rest did my shoulder well.

An hour after leaving Greenville the fog lifted, but only long enough for us to cross to the other side of the river and then returned thicker than before. Paddling through the fog was eerie as the water was also very still, unusual for this part of the Mississippi River. The fog could have been in a horror film or a TV crime drama. I could envision it, two kayakers are paddling along in the fog and they come across a severed hand. I also had visions of seeing a barge break out of the fog 20 feet away, barreling down on me. I could actually picture what the front of the barge would look like as it cut through the fog becoming visible.

Kobie and I paused often listening for the engine rumble of an oncoming barge. We heard a barge coming upriver with sufficient warning, but as it was passing another barge came from upriver that snuck up on us without hearing it until it was passing. We couldn’t see a thing but the engine noise was unmistakable.

At one point when I was paddling along I thought I was looking at land on the other side of the river. After about 10 seconds though my eyes refocused and it was a wing dam 30 feet directly in front of me. Kobie and I would have to paddle out along the side of the wing dam protruding several hundred yards in the river, forcing us nearly in the main river channel. It wasn’t like we only had one wing dam to contend with but rather a dozen. There was always a heavy flow of turbulent water as we rounded the dams. Worse yet was that on one particular dam there was an eight foot whirlpool that was at least four feet deep. I wasn’t sure what effect that would have on my kayak and quite frankly, I really didn’t want to find out.

As we didn’t want to have to paddle up each wing dam and then back into shore only to have to come back out at the next dam, we decided to navigate by compass in the fog from the end of one dam to the next. It was somewhat disconcerting giving up the safety net of being able to see the land, more so when I heard the rumble of an 8,000 horsepower diesel engine somewhere nearby. We were in a river and not the ocean, so even if we ran off course as long as we didn’t hear any barges, we should, in theory be in good shape.

While navigating by compass is easier than you might think with good maps, the reliability of my map was somewhat questionable. I feel comfortable in the use of a compass, but as Kobie is a scuba instructor he can navigate quite well by compass underwater in near zero visibility so surely he could do it above. Throughout the afternoon we heard about a half dozen barges, but didn’t see a single one.

As we paddled in the fog I was startled by a big noise just in front of me. It had come up so suddenly without warning that my heart began racing. It turned out to be a bunch of pelicans that spotted us and took flight.

Late in the day the fog above us cleared ever so slightly to allow the smallest slice of blue sky to be seen. I still couldn’t see a thing on the river until the fog cleared just enough to see some people on a sand bar. They were loading up a quad with gear following their hunting trip and if the fog hadn’t cleared just that bit it would have been entertaining hearing them yet not seeing them. What wouldn’t have been entertaining would have been if they took their boat out again and couldn’t see us.

We were able to find a decent campsite which I was happy about as there was no way I was going to cross to the other side of the river in an effort to camp. Everything was so still without even the lightest whisper of a breeze. There was also a fantastic echo right next to the wing dam where we decided to camp.

We set up camp on a small overlook about 50 feet above the river. Were their actually a view it might have been a nice one. In camp I just didn’t feel right, to the point that I had a feeling something was going to happen. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but it may have had something to do with the fact that we were at near 100% humidity and that it was over 60 degrees at 6 o’clock. We even had the sound of crickets and cicadas. I was shocked though when sitting eating dinner and was set upon by…a mosquito!

As I was walking down to the water to check things out later that evening I was clambering down some tree roots and was startled to come upon beaver. We stood at an impasse for a moment until it charged at my legs. I don’t think I can claim that it was attempting to attack me, but rather looking for an out. I think it is fair to say that we were both surprised and the encounter left our hearts beating a little faster.

In the evening I spoke to my dad who mentioned that it was some ungodly cold temperature in Winnipeg, so I had to call Dawn, one of the girls who set Kobie and I up for this trip. In spea

king to Dawn she confirmed that, yes, it was -35F. That is a minus sign in front of the 35 in case you missed it. Again, I think I will be happy with the temperature we have now. The coldest temperature I had camped out in a tent was somewhere around -20F, but at least I had the gear for it. I don’t think I would be quite so prepared for that right now.

If you want to get a little idea as to what it is like to paddle in the fog, take a look at the little video clip below:

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