Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Welcome to Mississippi

I awoke to the scent of bacon. Jim was firing up some breakfast. It wasn’t raining but it was cold and overcast. USA Today flat our lied about the prospect of the weather as they were showing lots of sunshine and warmer temperatures than I evidenced.

Kobie and I dried out and packed up the kayaks, which always takes longer than it should. Jim took us down to the river and gave us a shove off. I had a great time as Jim had so many interesting stories. He knows what it means to have a shower and what it is like to be out there.

As we were leaving the Wolf River outlet to get back on the Mississippi a guy pulled up behind us in a sleek race kayak. He was the owner of the outdoor shop we had been to the prior day in the lashing rain. He said he kayaks every day though he skipped yesterday and feels bad about it. That is hard core. He was pretty fired up about the river and paddling in general. He has made a big effort over the years to make the Mississippi more of a recreational river in the Memphis area. It seems that it might be a case of people waiting until there is the stigma of the Mississippi having a recreational use, before they buy in. That is like saying, “give me heat and then I will throw wood on the fire”. From what he was saying though, the number of recreational users of the river has been steadily growing. Paddling on the river everyday I can see why.

As he paddled away Kobie and I watched him go for a moment and then looked at one another as if to say, “so, that’s what it is supposed to look like”. As we began paddling a small Army Corp of Engineers boat did an end around, kicking up a big wake and causing a wave to roll into my lap. I managed to stay dry for all of six minutes. It didn’t help that the Army Corp of Engineers guy driving the boat was a jerk.

There was quite a bit of debris in the river, all washed in from the heavy rain. After awhile I gave up paddling around every little stick or branch and clunked into them. One thing that didn’t materialize after the rain was a significant increase in flow. I am sure the river was flowing faster than it would have absent the rain, but we were hoping for a little more.

As we got a late start it was a short day paddling as seems to be the case every time we leave civilazation. It was also the coldest I had been in several weeks. While we did the best we could to dry out our kayaks, they had been out in the rain, so that everything was damp. I knew we only had a few hours to paddle for the day so I sucked it up and paddled on.

Barge traffic on the river seems to have increased significantly. Whether from up or down river, we seemed to be encountering barges on the water every half hour or less. We barely had the opportunity to paddle in the main channel.

Well before dark I mentioned to Kobie that I was ready to stop any time he was. I knew it would take longer than usually to get a fire going after all that rain yesterday, but it was going to be necessary to warm us up and dry everything out.

Before stopping for the day we left Tennessee for the state of Mississippi, the second to last of our trip and one that lies on the Gulf of Mexico.

We had to level out a spot to set up my tent, but we had experience at doing so making it a non event. Neither one of us has taken a single stroke with our spare paddles, but we found that they do make a good shovel. We also managed to get a nice fire going, though it took some work.

While all the other islands upon which we camped were in fact islands, Island 44 was not. It, as well as many “islands” down river, didn’t fit the necessary criteria to qualify as islands, at least not as they stood today. When they were named I can only assume that they were surrounded on all sides by water, but then again they were named by the Army Corp of Engineers.

From the time we stepped ashore to the time I went to sleep it was all work. After a cold day on the river, albeit a short one, it would have been nice just to sit around the fire and enjoy its radiating warmth. Instead I had to dry out my gear and sort through my kayak, drying it out as well. While multitasking I succeeded in burning my shorts to a crisp in the fire. I was annoyed enough in that I liked the shorts and they were expensive, but I only have one pair of short left to paddle in.

For dinner Kobie and I cooked sausages over the fire with sauerkraut, rinsed down by a couple of beers that Jim sent us off with. I listened to the weather radio while eating and was surprised to hear that we could be hit with up to three inches of snow overnight. Dinner was the highlight of my evening and after eating I just wanted the day to end.

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