Day 58, July 26
Measurements: turbidity at Cherokee Light 26.5cm. Miles today: 37.
I woke early again, but not quite as early as yesterday. I was up an out on the water by 7am. The leftovers weren't any better than they were last night, so breakfast was a disappointment.
I took measurements first thing, as usual. But where until now I've mostly done the turbidity test in the boat, floating on the river, I now feel like I need to pull over to the shore, because the river is so much bigger and more unpredictable here.
After taking measurements, I hit a bend in the river where the waves were pretty serious, to the extent that I took on a little splash of water over the left side gunwale. It's fascinating how much the river can change, even in just a few feet, developing from something slow and placid to something fast and threatening. I'm still getting a feel for how to 'read' this section of the river.
I had a pretty strong south headwind all day, which was a major issue when I was in each of the bends that turn south - Little Cypress Bend, Chute of Island #14, etc. - but was not as big a deal when I was in the eastward and westward flowing parts of the river.
Between Robinson Bayou Dikes on one side and Hathaway Dikes on the other, a motorboat came speeding out of a backwater, right toward me. They stopped not far from me, and greeted me in a friendly way. It seemed to be a father and son - a middle aged guy and a shirtless, tattooed 20-something with a beard. They weren't just friendly, they were a bit over-friendly, and made me nervous for a second when they reached out to grab the gunwale of my canoe. I never know how familiar motorboat-type mariners are with the much more fragile balance of canoes, so I have some anxiety around them touching my boat. These guys were fine, though. They wanted to hear about the trip, of course, and for the second day in a row I heard a comment about the comparative size of my testicles. The son told me about someone who did the Source to Sea in a kayak, who posted a lot on TikTok, including a video of a place where he (the kid I was talking to) used to jump bikes with his friends on a piece of old barge embedded in the shore. He thought that was so cool. The dad asked, "do you drink beer?" When I said yes, he offered me one. I said sure, and he handed me a cold Bud Light. They also offered me a small catfish, which I declined. They confirmed that the water is low right now, but the son talked about how he found a reading deeper than 140' deep with his depthfinder not long ago, just around one of the bends in the river.
I believe that. As wide as this river is here in some places, I'm often amazed at just how narrow it can be. There are stretches no wider than the river in the Twin Cities, or even upstream of there. But it's carrying several times more water, so there has to be a heck of a lot down there. It certainly gives me pause, and gives me a certain vertiginous sensation.
The father and son motored off, and I cracked open their beer. I usually don't drink and boat, but I figured a) it's cold right now, and won't be later, and b) it's a Bud Light. It's got about the alcohol content of a large kombucha. I haven't had a Bud Light in years. It was pretty good, in that moment - cold, pretty crisp, not at all impairing.
I ran into those guys about an hour and a half later, as I was nearing Caruthersville. They wanted to show me the much larger catfish they'd caught, and chat some more. Nice guys.
I pulled into Caruthersville to stretch my legs, get something cold to drink, the usual. Up at the top of the very long boat ramp - these levees are getting taller and taller - a guy approached. His name is Keith. He asked the usual questions about the trip - where'd I start, where am I going, how long have I been on the water - and then he started telling me about other people he's met who have done the same. An Irish guy he put up at his house for the night. A girl with a dog, which he thought was great.
I told Keith I was going to head into town to find a convenience store. He said it was a bit of a hike - thirteen blocks - and offered to give me a ride in his truck. I said sure, and climbed in. He had some stuff on his passenger seat, including a rubber snake. I feigned being frightened by it, and he said "well, it keeps people from stickin' their hands in the window, don't it?" Keith was a character and a half. I liked him a lot, actually. He offered me a beer as well, apologizing that he was out of Busch and only had Michelob, "his girlfriend's beer." I declined this one, saying I don't like to drink too much when I'm on the water, and I already had a Bud Light a bit ago. He said "well, you ain't on the water right now, are you?"
On the way to the gas station, Keith saw someone in a truck driving the other direction and stopped in the middle of the street to give the guy a little "cheers" with his can of Michelob. The other guy also slowed down, and they had a little conversation right there. Keith asked "did you win?" and the guy nodded, laughing. Keith asked if the guy would be at the bar, and the guy said yes, and Keith said he'd see him there. As he started up again, Keith said that his friend had been out golfing. "But he never wins," he said with a laugh.
After he drove me to the gas station, I made noises about wanting to see the town a bit, as a way of asking him to drop me in town rather than taking me straight back to the boat landing. Keith had a different take on what I meant, and happily offered to give me a tour of the town. He pointed out the multimillion dollar fishing jig facility on the edge of town and other sites of local interst. One of these was his bar, a one-story concrete block building that was clearly constructed in stages. He said he'd grown up just around the block, and used to hang out there when he was eight or nine years old, with his friend whose dad owned the place. They'd "clean up dog shit and whatever," for a little bit of money and free food. He still lives just around the block from the place, with his girlfriend.
He also told me that he has lost three people close to him in just the past few days, including a woman he hugged just last Thursday but who died two days ago, a friend who died of canceer, and another friend who had a heart attack. "He ain't actually dead yet. But you know, no brain function. So he's dead." I tried to express empathy, sort of blown away by how much grief this guy was experiencing, and how completely nonchalant he seemed to be about it. Very much just a "shit happens," sort of attitude.
One of the last things he showed me was his brother-in-law's truck, parked on a sidewalk in downtown with a trailer full of building materials. Keith said, "he wanted me to help out on this job, but I told him I was on vacation. That was a lie," and then he laughed. Keith laughs a lot. "I just didn't want to do no work today. Thought somebody might need me down at the river." And that confirmed what I had suspected: Keith does this a lot. He hangs out down at the river, waits for people who seem to need a hand, and helps out. His stories about meeting my fellow paddlers were no accident; he seeks us out.
Keith dropped me back at the boat launch, and gave me his card for his painting service, told me to look him up if I'm ever back in Caruthersville. I said I would. I sat down and had a snack, chatted with Sam a bit. While doing that, I noticed that I had some pretty significant weather to the northeast. It was a band of storms that were going mostly west to east, but also seemed to have pockets reaching as far south as where I was, so I decided to wait it out. Caruthersville has a nice little pavilion up on the levee, and I even got the Duluth pack and more up under it, just in case, and worked on some updates from yesterday. Today's picture is of the storm, as seen through the sign on the top of the Caruthersville levee.
The storm passed without hitting me, and I got back on the water at around 4pm. I crossed the river, trying to get into some moving water, and found the outside of the next bend to be very fast indeed. Right towards the end of it, I had to navigate around a tow, which appeared to sit and wait for me to get out of its way - even after I pulled over for a bit to let it get out of my way.
I passed under the Hwy 155 bridge, and continued on until around 8pm, making pretty good progress with little wind and at least stretches with good current. I was drawn to some interesting looking old pilings, and took some pictures of them and the swirls of sand left by the river level receding.
I put the tent up and tried to make dinner. I'd been soaking blackeyed peas for most of the day, and tried to cook them and boil some water, but the stove is still fucked up despite my repeated attempts to fix it. The flame is yellow, and doesn't put out much heat. And as I frustratedly waited for it to work, I noticed something worse: I was being absolutely swarmed by mosquitoes.
I retreated into the tent. Sure enough, there were quite a few in there with me, and that horrible whining chorus I'd come to know so well in Minnesota. I shut the stove off and gave up on dinner, deciding to eat some pita strip snack food and some vegan jerky I'd been stockpiling for a just-in-case moment like this.
It's more demoralizing than I feel like it should be, to find myself back in swarm-of-mosquitoes territory. It's like, isn't everything difficult enough? The heat, the sun, the tows, the lack of current, the turbulence and waves, the flies. Not having to deal with a cloud of mosquitoes was like a form of recompense, and now even that is gone. I cursed myself for ignoring the pools of standing water I'd seen on the lower parts of this sandbar, left when the river level dropped, and hoped that is the explanation - that this won't be a regular thing, now.
And then in the middle of the night, another blow, this one literal: a very strong wind came up, and hit the tent broadside. It pulled my stakes out - they're just in sand, after all - and pushed the windward side of the tent into me much of the night. It wasn't easy to sleep, and I felt the need to get up and check the boat multiple times. Not a great night.
Tomorrow, the goal is to eat up as many miles as possible.