Day 59, July 27.
Measurements: turbidity at Island 20: 35cm. Nitrate at same location: between 2-5ppm, closer to 2. Miles today: 30.
Today was pretty rough in a lot of ways, but there were bright spots as well.
I didn't sleep well, due to the wind blowing the tent into me much of the night, and woke (or decided to stop trying to sleep) before 6am. But I took my time getting out of the site, in part to try to let the wind die down some. I cursed myself again for not making more progress last night towards the next bend, because I was left in a spot where there was little current, and I now had to go directly into the wind.
So I turned my attention to the stove, to try to get the damn thing working properly. And here's bright spot number one: I succeeded! There was a blockage on the fuel nozzle, and I was able to get it cleared, and got some nice blue flame. I put together the dinner I had planned to make last night - blackeyed peas with rice, chipotle pepper, dried sweet peppers - and made it for breakfast. It was absolutely delicious.
I got out of the site at around 9am, much later than usual. And the wind had not shifted or diminished in any way, so I then fought it up the shore of the sandbar, frequently having to lift the boat over little spits of sand that extended out into the water. It took me two hours to go two miles, down into the Huffman-Hickman bend.
Once there, I was in the lee of the wind and had just a bit of current, so I made more progress. I followed the channel, negotiating around several tows, including one where I had to go between the moving tow and a line of parked barges on the left bank, which was not super comfortable. There was a fair amount of turbulence at Tamm Bend, and then again going into Barfield Bend, as well as several tows all throughout the day. At Tamm Bend I strongly considered getting out, converting to road mode, and skipping the next "S" shape in the river, but decided against it.
Barfield Bend was a challenge, tow-wise. First I met one coming into the bend, and stayed as close as I could to the outside shore. Then another very large one (thirty-plus barges) came into the far end of the bend. The right bank (which was the outside) was totally clogged with parked barges, and there were two smaller tows working the area in some way. I pulled over to let the large tow clear the area, but it then parked itself up near the end of the bend, and one of the smaller tows maneuvered a barge to it. I decided to proceed. Unfortunately, I couldn't safely get too far out into the river, because the wind was still coming very strongly from the south, right in my face, creating waves I didn't want to face head-on. When I got fairly close to the large tow, the smaller one disengaged and seemed to come right at me. I turned left, it seemed to take the same line, and then right, and it followed there as well. Finally it chose a line towards shore, between the large tow's bargeload and me, and the operator started using his loudspeaker to say stuff to me that I couldn't hear. Something about a canoe, and I distinctly heard him say "you think you're mad? We're mad!"
I'm fucking sick of tows and barges and Industry, man. They feel like giant bullies, lording it over the river. We've effectively privatized huge chunks of the river's edge for them to park their barges. There's all this hostile, dangerous infrastructure out in the river, wing dams and closing dams and rock and concrete revetments, all for them and their precious nine-foot channel. We've taken all of the islands that used to dot the river and de-islanded them, turning them into parts of the shore. The barges push me out of the main channel, away from the current and into either still water or turbulence at the very edge of the water. Away from the outside of each turn, where I want to be, and towards the inside, where the wing dams throw off their lines of eddies and whirlpools and turbulence. They make me cross the river - a quarter or half mile wide! - when I really don't want to, just to get out of the way. And they all too often leave behind huge roller waves in their wake, which I can sometimes avoid but which sometimes the wind pushes into me. The overall effect is to make paddling the Mississippi feel like biking down a freeway, or at least a four-lane 55mph road. And it feels like I'm under a lot of pressure to buy a marine radio, to allow them to yell at me to get out of the way in a way that I can understand.
I may do a whole post about this, but it's also not lost on me that one of the commodities I'm seeing a lot of is coal. A substance that, for the future of all life on earth, we must absolutely stop mining, shipping in barges, and burning in the many power plants I've come across.
By the time I reached the area of the Forked Deer Dikes, around mile 800, I was pretty exhausted, both physically and emotionally. I didn't want to risk being caught in the dusk again, in case last night's mosquito swarm wasn't a fluke. So I found a nice spot with some decent elevation, and got out. Flies bit me a fair amount, always on the ankles and feet, as I made dinner, which was a sort of pad thai knockoff, and pretty damn good for the conditions I was under. No sand! Or close to it.
I was safely in the tent by the time the mosquitoes rose to greet the dusk, and I have to admit it: last night was not a fluke. This is the new normal. Unlike in Minnesota, where the swarm was basically constant, anytime I was on shore, the mosquitoes here follow a very strict timeline. They're effectively absent until just before dusk, when they materialize in large numbers. No more cutting it close at the end of the day, unfortunately. I say that because the evenings have tended to be my least windy time of day, meaning I can make much better progress than other hours of the day. Oh well.
I went to sleep early, completely cashed. I woke in the early morning, like maybe 3am, in pretty heavy wind and sprinkling rain. I put the rain fly over the tent and went back to sleep.
The idea for tomorrow is to make it at least thirty miles, to make it so I can reach Memphis by Friday. Jesse is flying down to hang out on Saturday evening, but I want to get there with a spare day for errands and whatnot - and just to maximize my time resting and recovering.