portfolio > gone on the river

day 42
day 42
July 10, 2022

Day 42, July 10.
Measurements: turbidity 25.5cm at Willow Bar. Miles today: 34.

I'm not going to sugarcoat it: today has been pretty grueling.

I woke early on Willow Bar, ate a pretty quick breakfast (crackers and nuts, like I was at a party), and got out on the water before 9am.

The river was doing interesting things. It was full of sediment, which didn't seem to have totally mixed in yet. There were clouds of sediment sort of swirling around beneath me, clearly three-dimensional. At some point I passed the confluence with the Skunk River, but it made little impression, either visually or in its impact on the river.

It was not as hot or humid as it has been, but the sun was shining through almost no cloud cover, all day long. I paddled past a few very long islands, one of them called Grape Island, the other Lead Island, and a few towns across the river on the Illinois side: Dallas City, Pontoosuc.

Eventually I reached the town of Ford Madison, IA, and put in. Their old main street is basically intact, which is pretty cool. It's Sunday, so most of the stores were closed. But I did find a Chinese restaurant open, Chuong Garden. I had some pretty good Kung Pao tofu, and they filled my water bottle with icewater, which is always nice.

Out near the water, Fort Madison the town has built - in the 1980s, using convict labor, according to their little blurb about it - a replica of the original Fort Madison, a trading post and defensive position that came under fire in the Blackhawk War, if I was reading it correctly.

I put back in on the now much wider Mississippi, and continued to hug the right shore. At this point, the river is over a mile wide, seemingly due to the effect of the next dam. I say that because the water went still again, and much of this huge expanse of 'river' was something like two feet deep.

The wind started to come up, unfortunately: a headwind, right in my face. I hugged as much lee as I could, but there wasn't much, just some lily pads. And after the confluence with Devil's Creek, I was basically out of luck. I couldn't even stay near the lily pads on the bank, because the algae changed from the very light green, superficial type, to the dense, matted type that is impossible to push through. I actually had to fight my way out of that stuff, and go out into more open water, where the wind continued to fight me.

It took me an hour and forty-five minutes to make it about three miles to the little town of Montrose, IA. That's less than 2mph.

In Montrose, the transformation to road mode did not go smoothly. For one thing, I have somehow lost one of the bolts that holds the wheel assembly together. I jury rigged a solution with an aluminum tent stake, but somehow it fell out while I was loading everything up, and I had to force it back in. Nothing went well.

I set out on the road just a bit after 7pm. I felt optimistic. It was only a bit more than 8 miles, and Google Maps assured me it was "mostly flat."

Turns out this "mostly flat" route included five hills that were so steep I had to stop peddling, get off the bike, and push. Several of them quite long. I suppose it was "mostly flat" in comparison to San Francisco. That must be what they meant. I kept repeating "mostly flat" as I trudged up hills, pushing the bike and boat.

Dusk was well and truly falling, and at a certain point I stopped at the crest of a hill to take a picture. Only then did I notice that the air about two feet above my head was an absolute riot of mayflies. Tens or hundreds of thousands of them. I tried to take a video; it probably didn't turn out. I was thankful that they were above me.

I shouldn't have counted on things staying that way. As I rode downhill, picking up speed, I hit several patches where they were down at the level of my face. Now, I'd already been hit in the face and arms with countless gnats on this bike ride so far, and those are irritating. But these mayflies are huge by comparison. They were getting in my hair, in my eyes, in my ears, under my glasses.

Then I hit the next steep hill, and the one after that, and thought about Biblical plagues and "mostly flat"ness until I reached Keokuk proper.

I checked into a motel, the Chief, and got myself yet another Impossible Whopper for dinner. I'm writing this from the motel room. I'd hoped to do laundry, but their machines require quarters and they have no change machine. Or laundry soap. I'm too tired to mess with it.

Tomorrow...? I'm going to sleep in. To heck with it. And maybe go to a laundromat. I don't know. Maybe I'll get within striking distance of Quincy, IL.

One thing is sure, though: I will definitely be leaving Iowa behind me.