portfolio > gone on the river

Day 55, July 23.
Measurements: turbidity at Angelo Towhead 24cm. Miles today: a paltry 26, and that took quite the effort.

So today basically sucked.

I got up late, at around 8am, and was very, very slow getting out on the water. One weird thing that happened: a guy in a helicopter circled my tent, then got really low to the water and hovered there, right next to me, until I waved at him, and then he flew away. Checking on me? If so, why?

Eventually I got everything in the boat. Before I started, though, I went to take a look at the next closing dam, a bit further on in my little channel. I made my second Angelo Towhead-related mistake, and convinced myself that because the aperture was bigger, I'd feel more comfortable running it than I had the first one the night before. Once I reached it in the boat, however, it looked very threatening indeed. I think I could've run it, probably 99 times out of 100, but I was too spooked by last night's little misadventure - and the consequences of flipping  the boat, which would almost certainly be the end of the trip - to go through with it. So I had to paddle back. I took a look at a little dry channel with a sandy bottom that sometimes has water in it, clearly, but not right now. But it was very far back to the river, and the sand was all jumbled and scoured by old currents, and it would've been super hard to pull the boat. So I paddled upstream for a ways, and then lined the boat further upstream until I reached... the place where I'd camped. It had taken me around an hour and a half to make it back where I started. Eventually I made it to a small beach at the base of the damned closing dam (a jumbled pile of rocks about ten feet tall) and portaged over it to another small beach on the other side. Very laborious, not at all rewarding. I finally made it out onto the main channel a bit after noon, which is ridiculous. To add insult to injury, there were lovely sandy sites on the main channel side of the towhead. Oh well. The entire morning was the rest of the consequences of last night's mistake not avoiding that chute the instant I recognized it for what it was.

But the day did not get better from there, unfortunately. I had some strong current for a little while until I reached Cairo, which someone on the Mississippi can't really see (it's mostly on the Ohio), and the confluence with the Ohio. There's a little park with a place to have a picnic, in that last little spit of Illinois sticking out into the confluence, a park for the old Fort Defiance. I didn't stop, having wasted so much time already today.

The confluence with the Ohio is nothing like the confluence with the Missouri. The Missouri confluence is fast and interesting, turbulent, fun. The Ohio confluence is like a couple of rivers coming together and forgetting they're rivers, and deciding to be a lake for awhile.

When I was trying to prepare myself for the Ohio confluence, the big question I asked myself was: will the current get stronger, and how intimidated by that am I? I had no idea that the actual reality is that the current goes away entirely and then only comes back at around half its previous strength.

I have to be honest: I hated this section of the river. Huge, slow, and still somehow threatening. When it does get a little pinched, it reacts by throwing up pretty big waves, but seemingly not getting much faster. The rate of progress I've gotten used to since St. Louis of between five and six miles per hour dropped back to three, maybe three and a half. Oh, and I was also fighting a headwind, yet again, and suffering in the hot sun. It was miserable. I thought about stopping entirely, and went up onto a beach to sit in the shade and talk to Sam.

A nice couple with very strong Kentucky accents came up on an ATV to ask if I was okay, if I had water. I said yes, I'm fine, I have water. I didn't want to get into my existential crisis with them. If the river goes back to being like it was in the damed dam pools, do I even want to do this? Is the water super low now, should I do it later? Ack.

At around 4:30pm, I got back out on the water, having made only 12 miles progress all day, in four hours of paddling. i tried to find the channel, and succeeded a bit more than before, though the water out there in the headwind was uncomfortably choppy.

Then I had a nice, tiny miracle happen that helped change my attitude a bit. Four people in a motorboat, who later told me they're from Hickman, KY and had just come down from Cairo, pulled up and engaged me in conversation. The usual: where did I start, where am I going, where am I from. One of the guys said "didn't I see you on Facebook?" And I said "I don't know, maybe. With the canoe and the bike?" And he said, "yeah, man, that's you!" They asked if I needed anything, if I have water. I said no, thanks, I have enough water - but do you have any soda? They said "Diet Coke?" And I said "oh man a Diet Coke would be so great." The guy fished two out of their cooler, and I sidled up close and he handed them to me. We chatted a bit more - he tried to sell me on using Hickman harbor, and told me I'd be there that evening, which I strongly doubted - and then I paddled off and they motored off. And then i drank two ice cold diet cokes, and they were so, so good.

After only a few minutes, another motorboat, this one much more a small flat fishing type, came up to me and cut its engines. It was a man and a woman, him with a short beard and shaven head, shirtless, her with bright red hair and freckles. Oh, and their boat's bow held a very large Confederate flag. To call that a red flag is actually backwards: I'd be much less concerned about a big red flag than a big Confederate one.

But they were very friendly, after a fashion. The guy started out by asking me if I was on the run from the law and if he should get out his pistol, but his wife was laughing and rolling her eyes. He seems to be what my grandfather would've called "a character." We talked about my trip, etc. He was standing right out on the front edge of his boat, which always makes me nervous, because I'm so used to canoes which would not react well to someone standing up in the middle, not to mention right on the gunwale. He was drinking a beer. He told me he's an "outlaw country boy," and asked me what I am. I said I'm a "city boy rule follower," which made him laugh. He and his wife both ended up taking videos of me with their phones, as I paddled off.

The river gets a bit narrower upstream of Columbus, KY, and that means faster, which was welcome. It's good to see that it's not sluggish at all times. And  then again as I went to the right side of Wolf Island Bar, though on the left side of the channel (to let two barges pass). Along this bar, there are lots of trees down, including one that was suspended six feet up in other trees sticking out of the water.

I decided to stay on Wolf Island Bar, and aimed to make it as far down as possible. But then I noticed some bright yellow signs, and stopped to investigate. They said that area was closed, because it's the nesting site of an endangered tern. I lined the boat back upstream for the second time today, and found a flat spot as far as possible away from that nesting area - not just to avoid getting in trouble, but because I really care about stuff like that.

Dinner was so good. Elbow pasta with mushrooms, TVP, tomato sauce, peppers. Blew my socks off. And then I went to bed as early as I could, which was a little before 10, because I've decided that if I'm goiing to do this, I need to start getting up much, much earlier. I'm aiming for 5am.

Some interesting things from today:

There is a massive cross right at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio, on the Kentucky side. Like a big symbol of "welcome to the South!" That's today's picture.

The Ohio has very obviously made the Mississippi much clearer - whether from its own water's quality or the fact that they slow down so much together. I have been able to see fish much of the day. I even touched one that didn't notice me, with my paddle, to see if I could. It swam away quickly. it was very large.

The trees on the shore are very often now this shortish, mostly straight vertical, wispy looking thing. I don't know what it is - some kind of willow?

Tomorrow, I want to get up as early as I can force myself to, get out on the water, get some miles down before the day really heats up, and then maybe take a break in the hot middle of the day, before paddling on in the afternoon/evening. A siesta. I feel like thirty miles should be my new expectation for myself.