Day 36, July 4.
Measurements: turbidity at the beach at mile 531: 44cm.
Around the fire last night with my new acquaintances with whom I share a love for the river (though it manifests very differently) but with whom I disagree about basically every political question, the conversation of today's storms had loomed large. When exactly would they hit? How early?
So when the birds woke me at 5am, instead of fighting for more sleep, I fought to wake myself and get moving. I ate my overnight oats and drank my tea and Emergen-C, and got out on the water before 6am. I'd probably gotten a good solid five hours of sleep, and I felt it, but this situation was somewhat serious. I was out on an island on a huge dam pool - a massive lake - and any kind of wind would make it more than difficult to get downriver. I had to go around eight river miles, which means about two hours. And that early in the morning, it was so still that the water looked like glass.
So I headed out. The glassiness didn't last long. A light south wind came up, and over the course of the morning it strengthened. I slid between islands on the right side of the river/lake, and hugged the right side (which I couldn't have easily reached in yesterday's wind - the beach was on the left side of the channel). I can't really say "right bank" or "right shore," because there were usually hundreds of yards of lily pads between me and anything that looked shore-like.
(This is a strange place to be in wind, especially adverse wind. The water grasses and lily pads do blunt the waves a bit, but they have no real impact on the wind - and they add their own friction, which can make forward progress into the wind even harder).
I put in at Bulger's Hollow recreation area ramp to use the restroom, and strongly considered getting out and biking into Clinton. I should have done it.
Instead, I tried to make it to the lock before the storms hit, which had been pushed back from 11am to more like noon, according to the weather channel website (which I now check a few times a day). But the wind picked up more, and I gave up on reaching it, out in the middle of a lake with increasingly intimidating waves. I made for a gap that acts as a spillway in high water situations, down into something called Lyon's Chute.
I made it there before the storms hit, and was pretty satisfied by that. I got all the stuff out of the boat, portaged it down the dry concrete ramp, and even had time to 'hide' the things that least want to get wet under the overturned canoe, effectively using it as a rain shelter. As the rain hit, I put away my wallet, took my shirt off, and prepared to meet the rain in shorts and sandals.
This worked well for a few minutes, and the storm was somewhat entertaining at first. But then it settled in for a nice long soak - like three hours - and I got bored. I made a questionable decision: I'd walk down the dam to the shore, where there were railroad tracks, follow the tracks down into Clinton, try to find something to eat, and walk back.
It mostly went off without a hitch. I didn't meet a train coming in either direction. No one questioned me at all. But this was a long walk. Seven miles, round trip, most of it through Clinton, some beside the tracks. It took until midafternoon. Oh, and this was all to get an Impossible burger at Burger King; further by far than I would have said I would walk for something like that.
Clinton is a strange town. Some obvious wealth, a lot of obvious poverty. It's big, with a lot of industry on the south side of town, and a mix of what look like authentic local businesses (which seem to be struggling) and chains.
The other major downside of this excursion: this walk, especially the part on jagged railroad-stone, destroyed my sandals. I've had these chacos for years, but this trip has killed them.
By the time I got back to the boat, at around 2pm, the rain was gone, the sun was out, and it was hot. I got everything into the boat and set off down Lyon's Chute, to discover that in addition, I now had an even stronger headwind.
I fought the wind through Clinton, tragicomically retracing my literal steps until I passed the southmost point I'd reached earlier on foot.
I fought my way down to a place where the river splits to go around Beaver Island, with the main stream continuing south (into the wind) and Beaver Slough heading west (out of the wind). I took the slough.
It was fascinating. Not a Beaver in sight, or frankly imaginable. Barges on both sides, creating some very strange waves, especially when I was buzzed by a few motorboats. The entire right bank was Industry, including an Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) corn processing plant that I'd heard about the previous night. I guess it sometimes makes everything within miles smell like burned corn. It's huge, and had at least four large pipes gushing effluent into the river.
I came back into the main stream of the river near another town - they're hot on each other's heels in this part of the river - called Camanche. I had to navigate an interaction with a towboat that was nosing around a barge on the right bank, the bank I was trying to hug.
And then I was out into an area with 'natural' area on the right bank and Industry on the opposite side of the river. This Industry was labeled as, among other things, an Excelon power plant. I stayed to the back slough, called Hanson Slough, and looked for a place to camp as the sun went down.
Like my experience above Trempeleau, there just wasn't anything good. I passed tens of places that looked pretty bad, but possibly doable if I squinted, but kept going. I finally compromised to a slanted bit of sand that didn't have too much vegetation on it, across from Adams Island near mile 507.
It was not a great campsite. I encountered a few mosquitoes, but mostly it was just not level, and damp. I made my dinner in the gathering dark - red lentils with onion, garlic, and greens, flavored with Berbere and scooped up with crackers, phenomenal - and got into bed, sandy all over, sore and very tired.
The Exelon plant was visible all night, lit up brightly.
I saw a few fireworks, from very far away, and heard people's 'unofficial' displays throughout the day.