Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Memphis, TN

Kobie and I wound up taking the day off as there was a heavy rain and thunderstorms forecast for the entire day. What would have been the point? I guess we have been relatively fortunate that we haven’t had all that many days with a heavy persistent rain such as was falling today. Several days ago I asked if we could finally catch a break. This was it as we were off the river. The rain was coming down sideways at times with thunder in was lightning thrown confirming our decision to have a day off. Not only that, but there was a tornado warning for the lower Mississippi Valley. It gave us the chance to visit with Jim and Karen.

I was able to check the 10 day forecast a little further south and much to my surprise it was to be far warmer than it had been. I saw some high temperatures in the 70’s! Not only that but some of the overnight lows didn’t drop below 50. That was the warm weather I was looking for down south. Whether the temperatures were normal or unseasonably warm didn’t concern me, only that things on the temperature scale as well as our prospects were looking up.

The area around Memphis was initially inhabited by the Chickasaw Indians. Both the French and Spanish had forts in the area but were unable to defeat the Chickasaw. In 1798 the land became a US territory and was opened for settlement. It was in 1818 that the Chickasaw Indians signed a treaty ceding western Tennessee to the United States, which allowed for the expansion of the area.

The town of Memphis was initially laid out on 5,000 acres by a small group individuals, one of which was Mr. Andrew Jackson, who would become the seventh president of the United States and graces the twenty dollar bill. Growth for the city of Memphis was slow until it became a transit hub around 1840, which it still is today. Rail connections were an important part of the growth as was river traffic. According to Air Cargo Magazine, Memphis Airport has been the busiest airport for cargo traffic by volume since 1996. That would be in no small part due to the fact that FedEx has its world headquarters located there.

Memphis had its share of struggles as in the 1870 there was a yellow fever epidemic that drove many of the residents out of the city. Those whose lives it didn’t claim anyway.

Memphis was revitalized in part to a rail bridge that was built over the Mississippi River, the only south of St. Louis at the time when it was opened in 1892, allowing the city to ship its main product at the time, cotton, to the west. The population expanded to over 100,000 by the early 1900’s and with an increase in river traffic thereafter expanded the city further. Even today the urban sprawl of Memphis pushes ever further east.

Another large piece of history that transpired in Memphis was the assassination Martin Luther King Jr. On April 4, 1969 a sniper shot Mr. King as he was standing on the balcony of his room at the Lorraine Hotel. There was a large controversy as to whether the sniper that was convicted, James Earl Ray was actually the killer. Many believed that the FBI was involved in the murder, including the King family.

Jim was kind enough to run us all over town taking care of errands. It is great being taken care of by people who have been in the outdoors and understand what it means to us being shown around town being able to take care of everything we need to. Jim just kept saying, “Where else do you have to go”. We stopped for a late lunch and some Tennessee barbeque. A heavy rain fell all day and it was fine by me as long as it stopped by morning.

In the evening we went out to dinner with Jim, Karen and number of their friends. It was interesting to hear stories of Memphis from people who grew up there. Some of the memories included seeing Elvis coming and going from Graceland as any other normal person would. It gives Elvis a real quality as opposed to some mythical performer.

After dinner back at Jim & Karen’s we met an avid paddler from the Wolf River Conservancy. We swapped some paddling stories as well as got some info as to a few people that might be able to help us out down river. While we are hoping to not have any trouble further south it is always nice to have some folks to call if there is trouble.

We spent the rest of the night sitting in the kitchen talking. I always really enjoy talking to people like Jim who have so many good stories of their own, including having inadvertently treed a bear while hiking along the Appalachian Trail, stopping for lunch and only learning about the situation when the bear was losing grip, casing small bits of bark to fall on Jim who thought it was drizzling.

In Jim’s storied career as a cargo pilot he has flown in the neighborhood of 15,000 hours and has transported, among other things, silver ingots (one of which went missing and was later found being used as a doorstop), a ski lift and a live whale.

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