I’m currently in Clarksdale, Mississippi, the birthplace of the Blues. I’ll be back on the river Sunday morning. I am 665 river miles from the Gulf of Mexico. Next stop will be Greenville, Mississippi, a five-day paddle from my current location. Barring any more setbacks (viruses be gone!), I plan to arrive at the Gulf mid-March.
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I know where I am. Do YOU know where I am?
Use the SPOT satellite tracker to find my location on the Mississippi River as I make my way to the Gulf of Mexico.
Launching from Memphis at 9am today.
Thursday, Feb 14 – 24 miles paddled today. Thanks to Memphis friends who came out to the Mud Island boat ramp to see me off. Sunny, clear sky, high in 60s. Decent current. Wonderful day for paddling. Saw four deer and plenty of waterfowl. Goodbye Tennessee, hello Mississippi, the 12th state of this journey. Great sandbar camp. Able to dry out sweaty paddling clothes before sundown. Yay!
little boat, Big River
Here’s a great shot of me passing under the Hernando Desoto Bridge in Memphis, Tennessee. Photo by Memphis photographer and paddler friend, John Henry. Check out more of John’s outstanding work at:
Photo taken February 14. Copyright JohnHenryPhotography 2013
Friday, Feb. 15 – Day 210 – Paddled 28 miles today. Mild, sunny. Stopped at castle-shaped casino in Tunica, MS to top up water bottles. Camped at lush green grass atop a high slope of riprap overlooking Mhoon Bend. Beautiful
Saturday, Feb. 16 – Paddled 31 miles today. Overcast and cooler. Saw a few snowflakes in morning. Sun in afternoon, breezy. Scary situation with barge wake breaking over kayak bow and cockpit. Nearly capsized.
Sunday, Feb. 17 – No miles paddled today. Tent-bound with stomach illness. Vomiting, diarrhea, no appetite, zero energy. If condition does not improve, may need to call for assistance and hike through the forest to road.
Well, the flu bug has passed and I’m feeling much better. Still here in Clarksdale, Mississippi, birthplace of the Blues. Getting back on the river Sunday morning.
I had a great interview yesterday with reporter Jesse Wright from the Clarksdale Press Register, the local newspaper. Big thanks to Jesse for his interest in the river journey. I’ll post a link to the story when it becomes available.
Today I’ll be giving a short talk at the Spring Initiative, an after-school program for Clarksdale students in grades 6-8. Check out their mission statement here:
Later today I’ll be attending a screening of some documentaries that were shot around Clarksdale. Barefoot Workshops organizes a documentary workshop for filmmakers each February. http://www.barefootworkshops.org/index.html
This year, films from that workshop will be screened at the Shack Inn here in Clarksdale. http://www.shackupinn.com/#
Check out their unique selection of shack accommodations. My favourite is the Chicken Shack.
Below is a link to a cool doc that was made at last year’s workshop. It examines a Clarksdale couple’s dream to open a restaurant in their hometown. Watch it on full screen.
Saturday, I’ll be doing a live Skype Q&A with the Grand River Kayak booth at the Outdoor Adventure Show in Toronto (10am-2pm EST). People will be able to ask me questions as a slideshow of river photos plays on a second screen. If you’ll be at the show on Saturday, stop by booth #438 and say “Hi”. The Q&A will be done live from inside an old blues bar here in Clarksdale.
Tuesday, Feb. 19 – Part 1 – After two days of splashing the sandy banks of the Mississippi River with diarrhea, a solid bowel movement in the bottom of the procelain bowl was a gleeful sight this morning. Perhaps this is not exactly what you’d prefer to read in a Facebook status update, but let me asssure you that unexplained purges of bodily fluids certainly constitute as subject matter during a lengthy river expedition. Turn up your noses and avert your eyes if you will, but the proof, as they say, is in the pudding – proof that the challenges only end when the river does. Maybe. Just be glad that you don’t live downstream.
Tuesday, Feb. 19 – Part 2 – Dehydrated, weak and completely disappointed at having to deal with yet another illness, the second in three weeks, I made the decision yesterday to stash the kayak amid the riverside vines and hike out through the thick fringe of floodplain forest to the closest road.
Calls were made to Memphis friends Richard Sojourner and Dale Sanders, who were then able to contact John Ruskey, owner of Quapaw Canoe Company in nearby Clarksdale, Mississippi. Without hesitation, John offered vehicle assistance and lodging at his shop. Shortly thereafter, Ellis Coleman, a shuttle driver for Quapaw, arrived on the scene to find me standing atop the dusty levee road, head to toe in black fleece, windblown and bedraggled, baggage at my feet. Ellis, a talented blues guitarist with direct family lineage to some of the legendary blues greats from this area remarked, “From a distance, I thought you was a black fencepost.” I laughed and replied, “I felt like Robert Johnson standing at the crossroads.” Ellis smiled and astutely asked, “It was time to make a decision, was it?”
Tuesday, Feb. 19 – Part 3 – I’m now recovering comfortably at the Owl’s Roost, a two-bedroom apartment here at the Quapaw Canoe Company in Clarksdale, Mississippi. The apartment is named for the owls that occasionally roost in the trees opposite the building’s west side. Today, from my roost inside the apartment, warm winter sunlight filters through the living room window, and although I do not see any owls in the trees, I can clearly see that the volume of the Sunflower River, its coffee-and-cream-coloured waters visibly swollen from last night’s raucous thunderstorm, has increased dramatically. Beside the Sunflower, on red wooden racks, is a fleet of overturned aluminum canoes, glowing silver in the afternoon sun. Next to the canoes is a ramshackle structure that functions as an open-walled workspace in the summer months. Roughly hewn beams and varnished tree trunks support rusty sheets of corrugated tin, vaulted steeply in an A-frame design. Bits of driftwood and old shoes dangle on strings from the beams as rusting antiques find new uses as tables upon which the creative Quapaw minds work their magic.
Here, in the birthplace of the Delta Blues, close to rivers muddy, mighty and ancient, John Ruskey, a humble man originally from the peaks of Colorado, has unhurriedly pursued his dreams as an artist, musician, river guide and master canoe builder. The Quapaw Canoe Company perfectly reflects who John is: a gentle soul extremely passionate about sharing the multitude of gifts that the local rivers have to offer. With mud in their veins and toes webbed by countless hours in the water, John and his team of Mighty Quapaws lend generous light on this little-known, but amply appreciated, paddlers’ mecca in the American South. Here, nature is their classroom, their teacher and their life. Here, they find themselves anew.
Today, John Ruskey and long-time friend “Muddy” Mike Clark, along with Quapaws Mark Peoples and Chris Staudinger, embarked on a 10-day canoe expedition around Big Island, a huge chunk of land bordered by the Mississippi, White and Arkansas rivers. They will be sharing their journey in real-time with schools in St. Louis, Missouri and Helena, Arkansas. Click the link below to read more about their Big Island adventure (“When A Friend Asks For Help…”)
Clarksdale’s own on-line source for off-beat happenings:
Quapaw Canoe Company
Big thanks to Ryan Hopgood for storing my kayak at his home during my stay here in Caruthersville, Missouri. I met Ryan yesterday at the local boat ramp, where he was enjoying his lunch in the sunshine, and he promptly offered to help in any way he could. When my 16’ sea kayak wouldn’t fit well in the back of Ryan’s truck, Jason Schrader and Daniele Berry, residents of nearby Hayti, Missouri, offered to move the boat in theirs. Thanks Jason and Daniele! New friendships were formed in the blink of an eye – such as it is on a river as grand as the Mississippi.
Thursday, January 17, 2012 – Day 181 – 28 miles/RM 847
Tough day on the water. Sun and cloud mix. Mild around 40F. Frost in morning. River came up 20 horizontal feet on weedy sandbar. Weeds are wheat colour, dry and long dead. Trees are inundated. Icy wind came up, gusting strong from NE and took away the sun’s warmth. Crossed river at twin hydro towers with lines spanning high above. Saw two white-tailed deer, herons, heaps of ducks and a bald eagle in its nest in J, L and G Girvin Conservation Area. Lots of floating debris (trees, logs, branches), swirling in little bays, same as yesterday. Debris is dangerous, do not want the current to push me up on logs and capsize. Dodging logs while paddling. Always on the lookout for debris. It’s what is beneath the surface that scares me. “Tip of the iceberg”-type thinking. Very diligent along this stretch. Know when to paddle and when not to paddle. No mistakes. If you make one mistake you may not live to make another. Came through swirling, boiling masses of water, currents shifting left, then right and back again in seconds, jerking the boat 90 degrees in an instant. Trying to anticipate the abrupt change in direction, all the while staying upright, staying balanced. It’s all about balance. There is no way a person could outswim that current, moving along at 8-10 mph, racing by the riverbank. It messes with your mind. Fear is the mind killer. Somehow staying focused enough to ride through it, knowing, or at least hoping, that it is temporary and that I’ve seen the worst of it. Said in one word: frightening. Scariest bit of a big river I have ever been on. Brutal stuff. Left me shaking, fully alert and bug-eyed. In other words: alive! It’s worst on the outside bends. Racing water, noisily running over itself, constantly changing, me always trying to remember where roads and little towns are in reference to where I’m paddling, just in case I capsize and am separated from the boat, in case I have to hike through the woods to a road, find a way out, cold and wet and desperate to survive, stranded with no communications. Those thoughts go through my mind dozens of times a day, and have every day of this expedition. “What if…?”
Then calm. Passing new rusty red shoots on forest trees in the bayous and sloughs. Arcing riverbank redish-orange for miles as the sun lights it up. No houses or buildings or barges, just forest – a corridor of new growth despite the cruel weather, inching toward the inevitable spring.
Gunshots shake the still air. Duck hunters in johnboats in slack backwaters pulling triggers at 6am, 11am, 4pm. And everywhere vines, leafless wooden ropes snake across the forest floor, snagging my feet and causing me to trip time and again, cursing each time. Ropes dangling from skeleton trees, what will soon be a riot of green, crawling with insects now in mild temps. Yellow spray paint on rocks mark hunter access or perhaps a barge parking spot? Flagging tape perhaps signify the same? A household freezer among the driftwood, its lid broken free from duct-taped restraints. A television set rests on the muddy bank. Rusty barge cables and thick rope of blue and white, or yellow and white, frayed and dangling from trees. And plastic bottles of every size and colour strewn along the shore, garbage released by upstream hands.
Then a break on one of the only sandbars of the day. High water has covered the others. This one is free of snow, unlike the one yesterday, near New Madrid, where I paced between snow patches to work off a gut that was gaseous from too much rice and beans. This new sandbar is warm in the winter sun, but then, moments later, blasted cold by an icy wind. Ten minutes was all I could stand before I was back in the boat, paddling to create warmth.
Then a big bend, a hairpin affair, approaches. I duck in a back slough to avoid the outside edge of an island being rattled noisily with current, waves and barge wake. It is quiet in the backwater. A slow current suggests an outlet but a forest of rusty willow shoots says otherwise. Anglers fly by in a johnboat and wave. I wave back. They coast and cast, the splash of their sinkers visible in the afternoon gloom. Then a small channel appears. I slip through and into the river again. The current picks up and shoots me over noisy ledges of debris, straight into rafts of swirling logs and foam. I weave through the morass and into back currents, then out into faster, crazier water, well beyond my comfort level. Racing along, hating it. To the shore once more for a breather. Now near Caruthersville. Big industry, up a slough to my right, grows larger as I pass. Cranes, towers, barges, docks. Massive and unexpected. Then past a huge hangar-like building, a barge building shipyard. A newly painted red barge with white tie-down cleats sits tilted on launching rails. I think to myself, “So this is what they look like before rusting away.” The current races me past two workers at another facility. One man takes a photo. Buzzing by parked barges, eager to reach the campground in Caruthersville, now only a mile away. Then an angry stretch of confused boils and currents, jerking the boat to near collapse. “I want off this ride, now!” I shout. I look to my right and see a small sandy slope. It looks like an extension of a boat ramp at low water. I shoot out of the current, crossing the eddy line and, in relief, hear the hull of the boat hiss to a stop on the sand. My left leg is numb. I cannot move it. I sit until the feeling returns. Lead foot, spongy at best. I step into what looks like foam on sand but my foot sinks into 12 inches of water. I stumble and my leg threatens to snap. I gain my balance and chide myself aloud, “You better watch it! You’ll break that damn thing before the day’s done.”
I am at an old ferry landing. I decide to make camp. I’m spent and cannot carry on another mile to the campground. The details of finding a motel and storing the boat are too much for me at this point. I need shelter, food and heat. I go with what I know will work and erect my tent. By 6pm I am asleep. 14 hours later I awake, stiff and not at all refreshed. I’m hurting. I need a break.
In August 2001, during a source to sea descent of the Mississippi River in a 17’ canoe and a pontoon boat named “For Sale”, longtime friend Scott McFarlane and I arrived in Cape Girardeau, Missouri at night following a 155-mile day of river travelling.
So plentiful were our misadventures on the Mississippi that summer that I decided to use them as the centerpiece of a book chronicling our 35-year-long friendship. I plan to self-publish “Part-Time Superheroes, Full-Time Friends” later this year. If you are interested in purchasing a copy of the book, “Message” me on Facebook, leave a comment below or send me an email at rod@ZeroEmissionsExpeditions.com.
Here’s an excerpt from the book detailing our passage through the St. Louis-Cairo corridor. Let me know what you think!
London, Ontario-based artist Jeremy Bruneel was commissioned to do the illustrations for “Part-Time Superheroes, Full-Time Friends”. The attached photo remains the copyrighted property of Jeremy Bruneel and cannot be copied or used without consent from the artist.
The large city of St. Louis, Missouri, along with its iconic Gateway Arch and its towering skyline, rose from the banks on our starboard side. We sped past this metropolis of almost three million and made our way down to the more humble and quieter Hoppie’s Marina for a break.
As I steered the boat toward Hoppie’s dock, I came in at too much of an angle and with an awful-sounding metallic crunch, busted off an eyebolt on the bow’s left corner. Immediately a wave of guilt flooded over me as Scott let loose a curse and scrambled to get our mooring lines secured. It had been my first attempt at docking the boat and I had fucked it up. All of our oh-so-careful navigation had gone to shit in one slip up. Now we could add the eyebolt to a growing list of damages, none of which Scott was the least bit happy with. Each dent, scrape and graze devalued For Sale in his eyes. And each mishap steeped my stress level into a stratosphere of guilt and eggshell walking. Neither of us dared upset the other. Neither dared challenge the other to confrontation. And neither dared mention the rot of emotion that lay unspoken within us. With a single busting of an eyebolt, the whole trip for me had changed in an eye blink. My only respite would be a lengthy break from both Scott and the boat. The only question was: when?
Once back on the river, with Scott now at the helm, we gained on a slow moving tugboat. Scott swung For Sale to port to overtake the tug. Even at low speed, or perhaps because of it, the tug was casting off a large wake. As we began our approach, the swelling wake took on a height of seven feet. Scott thrust For Sale up on the steep side of the wave and as it topped the swell our bow tipped precariously over the crest and dangled dangerously for a moment, causing me to grip the railing white-knuckled. The whole boat then twisted as the swell rose under the starboard pontoon and pushed the boat’s portside into the river. It felt, and looked, as though the boat would flip over. Scott eased back on the throttle and For Sale backed off the swell. Then Scott, gripping the wheel with an intense gaze, gunned the throttle to full. The whining engine tore at the waves and shot us bounding over the swells and past the tug. My heart pumped hard in my ears and I thought to myself, “I seriously hope the rest of the river is not like this.”
South of the last lock, the Mississippi had become a different river – a river of swirling whirlpools, bubbling boils and restless currents. No longer was it confined into placid pools by locks and dams. It was loose and on the prowl and it seemed pretty angry at something. We silently hoped that the “something” wasn’t us.
There were no significant ports or towns until Cape Girardeau, Missouri, 127 miles below St. Louis, so we made it our destination for the day, fuelled more by the need for fuel than anything else.
By the time we arrived hours later in Cape Girardeau, the daylight had long faded. I precariously balanced myself on the bow, pointing a high watt spotlight that we had thankfully purchased in Alton into the inky night. Lacking anything resembling a marina, “the Cape” presented us with Kidd’s Fuel Service as the only thing worth tying up to. Kidd’s consisted of nothing more than an archaic barge tacked on to the end of a long wooden gangplank. Tired, stressed and cranky, we bedded down for yet another night aboard For Sale.
Less than an hour later I awoke to the familiar sensation of a rocking boat. As I watched a bright full moon arc back and forth across the roof of my tent, I realized that the rocking was violently increasing. I woke Scott with a yell and we both dove naked out of our tents just as For Sale began to slam against the dock’s rough outer edge. With arms outstretched, palms pressed against the sliver-laden wood, we did our best to hold the boat away from the dock. Unfortunately, our best attempts could not prevent the boat from bashing into the dock, causing more damage and more curses. Off in the darkness we could see the cause of the chaos: a large, wide string of bound-together barges being pushed by a towboat. I shook my head and thought to myself, “I seriously hope the rest of the river is not like this.”
Countless times through the night we sprang from our tents to repeat the same procedure. Each time we grew crankier and each time I longed for a much-needed break from the stress-filled monotony. Even when I was able to finally fall into a deep sleep I was blasted awake by the blaring horn of a train passing no more than thirty feet away from our boat. We had come 155 miles on the day but even that positive thought of nautical progression fizzled as the night slowly and sorely wore on.
We woke with bloodshot eyes, mean tempers and the need for boat fuel. Beside us was a massive, 15-foot-high concrete floodwall that ran the length of downtown Cape Girardeau. We had seen several of these floodwalls further upstream. It seemed such a drastic measure for towns to take in order to prevent being inundated by the river. Why, I wondered, had a city been built so close to the river in the first place? With this two-foot wide wall in place, the people of Cape Girardeau had essentially taken away their waterfront view, something prized by other cities further north. Worse than that, they had walled themselves in, cowering in fear behind their formidable barricade while the big beast prowled around outside. It resembled a scene straight out of the 1933 version of King Kong. Cue the natives, safe and secure in their jungle fortress. I couldn’t help but think that the residents of Cape Girardeau had turned their backs on the river, turned their backs on the very thing that had no doubt first attracted the city’s settlers to this area. Such as it is with walls and rivers: both sides eternally engaged in an endless game of one-upmanship.
We ascended a metal staircase, stood atop the floodwall and got a good look at Cape Girardeau’s downtown. The brick facades of the businesses and the white-walled courthouse were historically eye pleasing in the early morning sun. Directly below us was the rail line, running parallel to the wall. The metal staircase descended to the rail line and a string of murals had been painted on the city side of the floodwall, displaying an obvious need to beautify the concrete eyesore.
With huge gaps of up to 200 miles between fuel services downriver, we decided to buy another four gas cans, upping our total to twelve. Scott went off in search of a WalMart and returned about an hour later by taxi with four full gas cans. While the taxi waited, I filled its trunk with four empty cans and Scott went off to get those filled. Fed, watered and fully fuelled, we happily bid adieu to Cape Girardeau and hastily moved downstream.
After two hours of cruising, a top-up of the engine’s fuel tank was in order. We shut down the motor and drifted for several minutes while I filled the tank. Scott turned the ignition key but the engine would not respond. As we drifted dead in the water, a towboat pushing sixteen barges rounded a bend and headed straight toward us. Scott repeatedly turned the key to no avail. He told me to look for an external primer button on the motor but I saw nothing of the like. The starboard riverbank, less than a hundred feet way, was strewn with large rocks in an effort to arrest erosion. We knew that if we could not get the motor started we would surely be cast upon the rocks by the barge’s wake. As Scott worked frantically with the motor, I kept an eye on the barge and my fingers on the ignition.
“Try it, Roddy!” shouted Scott.
I engaged the ignition. The motor sputtered but would not turn over.
“Again!” hollered Scott.
I cranked the key and the engine revved strong. The propeller churned the water white. In anticipation of a quick escape, I reached for the throttle. As I did the engine stammered, snorted and stalled.
“Damn it!” barked Scott. He nervously tinkered with the motor and asked, “Where’s that barge, Roddy?”
“It’s getting close!” I shouted as I gazed across the bow to see the barge bearing down on us. “We need to move now, Scott!”
“Start you fucker!” screamed Scott angrily at the reluctant Mercury.
The rumble of the huge barge vibrated loudly in our ears as it swept past our portside. It was only a matter of moments before the barge’s wake would be upon us, lifting our helpless craft into the jagged rocks that seemed only yards away.
Just as the first swells began to the rock the boat, the Mercury fired up loud and confident.
“GO!” shouted Scott.
I revved the throttle hard and threw the boat into gear. For an instant the engine hesitated. Then a massive burst of power lurched the boat forward. We sped over the rising waves and carved around a barely submerged wing dike.
Once clear of the barge wake and rocks, we heaved a huge sigh of relief and pointed the boat downstream. For the rest of the day, each time we refueled the tank we kept the motor idling. The last thing we wanted at this point was to be stranded on the river, miles from the nearest town.
Saturday, Nov. 24 – 25 miles paddled plus portage around Gavins Dam. A good day indeed. Steady current. Low water levels. Plenty of exposed sandbars. Camped on a sandy beach opposite 60 ft high bluffs. Beautiful. 55 river miles from Sioux City, the halfway point of this journey. 1900 miles from the Gulf of Mexico.
Sunday, Nov. 25 – 44 miles paddled in 8 hours today. Cold and breezy. Wide river with many sandbars. Steady current. Saw several bald eagles. Now in channelized portion of river. Wing dams and tons of riprap to prevent erosion. Now 11 miles from Sioux City, Iowa. Goodbye South Dakota.
Monday, Nov. 26 – 18 miles paddled today. Spent half-day in Sioux City, Iowa. Had a great interview with reporter Lauren Mills from the Sioux City Journal. The story will be in Tuesday’s paper. Traffic, trains, industry. The river has taken on a new face: commercial use. Bitterly cold Monday night. My thermometer reads -10C/14F. High of 45F on Tuesday.
Tuesday, Nov. 27 – 35 miles paddled today against gusting headwind. Hard work. Moving through landscape of drab tans and browns, leafless trees and the dark faces of distant hills. -4C Tues night. Frosty!! Still smiling! 70 river miles from Omaha, Nebraska. Onward!
Wednesday, Nov. 28 – Day 131. 33 miles paddled today. Headwinds again but sunny all day. Camped in an area of extensive riverbank construction at river mile 657. Forest cleared, riprap dumped, banks stabilized, side channels widened. High water mark from last year 15 feet up the surrounding trees, and those trees are high on the bank, 20 feet above the present river level. Amazing to think that this area was completely under water last year. Onward!
Thursday, Nov. 29 – 25 miles paddled today. Sunny. No wind. 50F. Passed the 2000 mile mark of this expedition – river mile 632. 1800 miles to go! Big thanks to duck hunter Mark Kuer for the lively morning chat and to Pat Mallette at the Driftwood Steakhouse near Blair, Nebraska for giving me water, pop and veggies, free of charge.
Friday, Nov. 30 – Sameness of the channelized river has become routine and somewhat boring. Struggling to stay positive. Cold and dampness irritating. Needing a break – heat, dryness. I’m now below Omaha, NB. Camped at river mile 608 on Iowa side. Highlights: saw a group of wild turkeys, more songbirds along the riverbank than upriver.
Saturday, Dec. 1 – Passing bridge construction in heavy fog was a daunting experience. Highlight: saw a refrigerator in a tree, a reminder of last year’s devastating flood. Camping with hooting owls, gnawing beavers and restless geese at river mile 572.
Sunday, Dec. 2 – 30 miles paddled today. Goodbye Iowa, hello Missouri. After fog lifted, sunny and mild temps in mid-50s. Big thanks to Nebraska City resident Harold Majors for the lift into town to get groceries. Onward!
Monday, Dec. 3 – 35 miles paddled today. Mild temps and gusting winds. Counted 26 bald eagles in four adjacent trees where I am camped at river mile 508, 58 miles upstream of St. Joseph, Missouri.
Tuesday, Dec. 4 – 33 miles paddled today. A generous helping of sun and mild temps in the 60s made kayaking more tolerable. At the boat ramp in Rulo, Nebraska, I met a most curious river character by the name of Rudy Fredrick, a man that has allegedly been beaten, shot, stabbed, hung and drowned, among other things, all within a stone’s throw of the Missouri River. He told me that while he was tra
pped underwater in the grip of a deadly whirlpool, a lack of oxygen had robbed him of quite a few brain cells, and that for many weeks after his ordeal he was unable to remember what the speed limits were on the roads around Rulo. Naturally, this resulted in several run-ins with the local authorities, who were always less than impressed with Rudy’s detailed account of his near-death experience. Even good excuses grow old quickly in this part of Nebraska. It’s also worth mentioning that I politely refused his offer of a Pepsi bottle filled with homemade wine. Some things are best left to the professionals with the most experience. It’s fuel for hell-raising, one could say.
Wednesday, Dec. 5 – An interesting day that began with a frosty morning in the mid-20s, followed by a 25-mile paddle downstream to St. Joesph, Missouri. I was welcomed at the French Bottoms boat ramp by the smiling faces of local paddling e
nthusiasts Emma Gossett and Derrick Boos, who offered to store my kayak for the duration of my stay in St. Joesph. Minutes later, reporters Alex Hassel from KQTV (ABC) and Bob Heater from KNPN (FOX) showed up at the ramp with TV cameras in hand, ready to document my arrival. Quite honestly, I had no clue that any of this was going to happen but I’m very happy that it did! Smiles all around!
I’ll be here in St. Joesph for a few days as I enjoy the luxury of a heated room and a bathtub full of hot water. Time to recharge the batteries before the push to St. Louis begins. I am currently at river mile 450, 450 miles from the confluence of the Mississippi River. I’m hoping to arrive in St. Louis by month’s end.
Big thanks to Bob Heater at KNPN (FOX) for the television coverage.
I’m currently enjoying the heated interior of a room at the Cottonwood Motel beside Gavins Point Dam near Yankton, South Dakota. I’m also bloody relieved to be finished paddling Lewis and Clark Lake, the last of 14 lakes along the Missouri river system (including tributaries.) Of the 1800 miles that I’ve paddled so far, almost 1000 miles of it has been on lakes. River? What river? Missouri Lake would be a more appropriate title. At least it’s comforting to know that I’ll now have sustained current all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.
Challenging paddling conditions were frequent on every one of the 14 lakes along the river system, right up until the final paddle stroke yesterday. Whether it was navigating through a somewhat confusing maze of marshland or dealing with headwinds, crosswinds and a stiff breeze, my passage on Lewis and Clark Lake saw me paddling hard with sharp focus and clear determination to reach Fort Randall Dam in as little time as possible. Just the same, time was spared for a few smiles, because, after all, the scenery was pretty darn special too.
After a month of downtime, the Missouri-Missouri river system kayaking expedition is finally set to resume. Daytime temperatures here in Chamberlain have been mild as of late, but that is set to change as the weekend approaches. Temps in the teens have been forecast as a cold front moves through the area, bringing the inevitable signs that winter is just around the corner.
Cold weather clothing, including extra layers of fleece and down, has been packed in a watertight drybag and strapped to the rear deck of the kayak. I’ll be wearing a one-piece, waterproof Gore-Tex paddling suit from Kokatat to keep out the cold and wet as well as a comfy Kokatat fleece onesie under the suit. Thick neoprene paddling mitts from Mountain Equipment Co-op will keep my hands toasty and a rubber coated balaclava will keep my brain from freezing. Hopefully, all this clothing, as well as a new neoprene sprayskirt from Boreal Design, will make paddling in frigid conditions a wee bit more bearable.
A definite cold weather challenge awaits, but I’m happy to report that I am more than ready to face the challenge head-on. The expedition now enters a new phase, one surely filled with a host of risks and multitude of rewards. I can’t think of a place that I’d rather be right now.
In terms of paddling distances, Chamberlain, South Dakota is 968 miles from the Mississippi River confluence. Fort Randall Dam, which marks the end of Lake Francis Case, lies 88 miles downstream. I will then enter a 40-mile stretch of river that empties into 28-mile-long Lake Lewis and Clark, the last reservoir on the Missouri River. Gavins Point Dam, at the lake’s southern end, will mark the last major portage on the Missouri. After that, the only obstacle en route to the Gulf of Mexico will be the Chain of Rocks rapid on the Mississippi River above St. Louis. Thankfully, that rapid is easily portaged via a gravel parking lot.
Use the ZEE Tracker to see where I am on the river!
By the way, I am wearing a FEAT Buff in this photo. Buff is a headwear company based in the UK and North America, and FEAT is an adventure talk series that takes place bi-annually in Vancouver, BC. I have been invited to talk about the Missouri-Mississippi river system expedition at one of their events in 2013. Check out what FEAT and Buff are up to!