Tuesday, December 2, 2008

From Bad to Worse

My tent does a good job of retaining heat, which means that condensation builds up on the walls. With the temperature in the 20’s, that condensation froze solid. When taking down the tent, the fly was stiff as a board and coated with ice.

Now that the river is no longer controlled it winds much as the Red River did, forcing us to paddle in every compass direction. Paddling in all directions regulated how much time we spent paddling into the west wind and in some cases it was worse than others.

One other idiosyncrasy about the river as compared to the others we paddled was that there were huge wing dams precluding us from taking the shortest route in most cases, as the US Army Corp of Engineers was forcing the flow into the main channel with the dams. When there weren’t wing dams, there were massive sandbars on the inside of bends in the river again forcing us to paddle the longest distance on the river.

Traffic has increased on the river, not only in volume but in size. Tugs pushing barges numbering in the 20’s area regular occurrence and the new record is 35, being 1600 feet long, nearly a third of a mile! We also had to avoid a Coast Guard vessel on the water. While the Army Corp of Engineers is responsible for managing the flow of the river, it is the Coast Guard that takes care of all the buoys in the river.

I was on autopilot the entire morning, slogging away. Kobie was paddling ahead, but when I caught up he mentioned that we only had 10 miles left to the town of New Madrid, MO. New Madrid was the town where we were slated to pick up the shipment of wheels for Kobie’s kayak cart. We just didn’t know exactly when they would arrive.

It seems that the region has an interesting take on the pronunciation of foreign capitals. The town of Cairo, IL is pronounced Kay-roh and the first syllable of Madrid is pronounced to rhyme with had.

The last two miles into the town of New Madrid was worse than the first 28 combined. The wind had picked up significantly, throwing waves in all directions. I fought the wind with a lap full of water. The ache in my shoulder had become a sharp pain that I was hoping would pass.

After a tough afternoon we arrived at the New Madrid boat ramp. The boat ramp was in an open area, leaving us zero shelter from the wind. As we were still one wheel shy for Kobie’s kayak cart, he was going to head to a campground in town with one of my wheels while I waited for him to return with it.

We first pulled my kayak up over the other side of the road near the boat ramp so I had the slightest shelter from the wind. Before Kobie even left for town we had “Bud” pull up to see what we were up to. When we told him that we planned on staying at the campground he looked puzzled and asked, “What campground is that”? I had a feeling I knew what that meant for our prospects of camping. We learned that the campground we heard about was in actuality a motel, and not a very nice one at that. Bud referred to it as the “Ejaculation Motel”.

Kobie went to check out what was going on while Bud ran home to see if he had a temporary wheel for us or if he could scare up a trailer to give me a lift to the “campground”. Kobe radioed me to let me know that there was no campground, but in its stead was one the sketchiest motels he had even seen. We didn’t have any choice.

Before long Bud returned with a wheel, but of a size that was too large to work with the kayak carts. Bud zipped off again and this time returned with a friend and a box van. It is surprising how many people actually have vehicles that can transport a 17 foot kayak.

In the last four years of my travels I have stayed at literally hundreds of motels and this one without question is in the running for the dodgiest. Another entrant was from my 2005 bike ride that I describe here. This motel was a bunch of connected mobile homes and was probably quite nice in 1973. Never mind internet access or laundry facilities, this place didn’t even have a working phone in the room. Oh, and the door to the room didn’t lock either; so forget both of us going to dinner at the same time. A big red flag is when there is a sign in the lobby area stating that there re no refunds after check-in. A second warning was that sign indicating that there was head in parking only. I can only guess that they have had problems with people in the past loading the worn and beaten furniture of the room in the back of their vehicles. At least I didn’t feel bad about cleaning all my absolutely filthy gear in the room. I took out my tent fly and it was still full of ice. I was able to make a few snowballs with what I collected from the bottom of the bathtub.

The only choice for dinner was a pizza place. I walked around a bit to see what was in the area and popped in to grab a menu. All the chairs were up on tables so I inquired as to when they opened. No, they were open. They didn’t have a menu of any sort either. Not just a take out menu, but any menu, period.

The biggest agony of the evening was what to do about getting the river maps for the lower Mississippi River. I had tried to order the maps two weeks ago, but they only took checks. Having had a check sent to the Army Corp of Engineers, it took forever to get the maps sent to my centralized mailing station, a.k.a., my mom. She was going to consolidate a few packages for me, including a new knife, a replacement buckle for my kayak seat and the maps. We have been without maps since Cairo, IL and it hasn’t been much fun figuring out what is down river, so I was hoping to get them ASAP. We had to wait for Kobie’s new kayak cart wheel, so I had the maps overnighted for 70 bucks. Ouch.

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