portfolio > gone on the river

Day 54 July 22
Measurements: turbidity at Marquette Island 31.5cm. Miles today: 45!

Woke rather early, at around 7am, and was out on the water at around 8:30. I was sorely tempted to head back over to Cape Girardeau to try out that vegan restaurant, but they open at 11am, and I wasn't willing to wait until after noon to get on the water. So instead, having prepared no breakfast, I ate an apple (from the motel stay at Alton, long ago) with peanut butter and some mouthfulls of trail mix. And Tang.

The current was very strong, again, and downstream of Cape Girardeau where the other half of the river that went around Marquette Island comes back in, it was very turbulent, with some of the biggest waves I've seen so far. It didn't help that there was a lot of barge traffic associated with all of the Industry on the right shore. But I made it just fine.

After a few miles and another big bend in the river I came across the town of Thebes. I'm fascinated by the settlers' fascination with all things Mediterranean, and especially Egyptian. Here's my tiny frontier town on the Mississippi, what should I call it? Oh, I don't know, Cairo, Thebes, Memphis, Herculaneum, New Madrid. Nothing ostenatious. This particular town is interesting because it is basically gone. I'm guessing it must have been a flood, and I'm riding the perpetator. There are platted streets in a grid, still showing up on Google Maps, still with their power poles But there are no houses in the vast swath of the town. One big house, way up on a hill, a few others that seem to have been just high enough. And then just lots of grass. That's today's photo, the town of Thebes, or what used to be the town of Thebes.

Back out on the water, I saw a man in a motorboat under the railroad bridge into Thebes catch a fish as long as his torso. He seemed excited.

I hugged the right side, but far enough out to avoid the turbulence that comes off the wing dams. Passed the small town of Commerce, MO, which appears to have no actual commerce in it at all, not even a convenience store.

As the afternoons wear on, with no break from the constant sun - it has been virtually cloudless every single day since St. Louis - I find myself getting tired, logy, my stroke getting weaker. Today I tried something I've thought about for awhile. At around 3pm, about halfway in my journey for the day (with 25 miles solidly behind me) I got out on a sandbar called Browns Bar and took a little dip. I wouldn't say "swim," because the water wasn't deep enough to cover me, even lying flat on my back. But it was still quite refreshing. After maybe 15 minutes I got back in the boat and kept on.

The river in this section does some real meandering. It snakes south, then east, then north a bit, then west, then north again, east some more, and finally settles on southeast to approach Cairo, IL, which looks like the Egyptian city name but is pronounced "kay-roh."

It was evening as I paddled towards Cairo, under the bridge for Hwy 57. I considered stopping at a spot on the Illinois side right near that bridge, but I felt like I could make it to Angelo Towhead, and also there was a dead fsh right there, covered in flies. So I kept on, hugging the left shore. I saw sand in front of me, and didn't pay enough attention to the sound of moving water that I noticed. I was also on the phone with Sam, on one headphone.

By the time I realized that the gap in the wing dam (or closing dam, because it was trying to divert water from going around Angelo Towhead, back into the main channel) had created a substantial little rapid with a strong "V," I couldn't paddle back to the main channel. It's set up in such a way that the main force of the current there fights you getting back out. So I braced myself and positioned myself as well as I could in the center of that V, and rode it down.

It was pretty terrifying, frankly. From the left side, a sheet of flat-looking water rushed down and right, to meet a line of turbulent water with little choppy waves coming down from the right side. The canoe was pushed to where the two met, and the "flat" water from the left started trying to flip her, pulling the left side down. I had to lean pretty hard to the right not to capsize. All the time talking to the boat (even though I was still on the phone with Sam) saying things one might say to calm a frightened horse: "that's okay, sweetie, that's okay, we're fine, no no, don't do that, no no, good girl..."

In the end I made it down the chute, rattled but safe and still in the boat. I pulled up to the sandbar very quickly and got out. I think I rattled Sam as well, who'd heard the whole thing. So yeah, another lessonu77 learned: gotta stay in the channel, away from side channels, chutes, sloughs. They were safe until now, but now they are definitely not safe.

Made myself a nice dinner, even though I'm still struggling with the stove. Couscous with green lentils, raisins, dried cherries, curry powder, and diced fresh onions and roasted almonds. Very tasty.

Went to sleep pretty early, by 10pm. I was very, very tired.