portfolio > gone on the river

day 61
day 61
July 29, 2022

Day 61, July 29
Measurements: turbidity at Cedar Point: 32cm. Miles today: 30.

Well, fuck.

Today has been just about the hardest day not just of this trip, but of... my life, maybe? Last night was one of the top five worst nights of my life, certainly. I can remember worse - the night my dad died, certain breakup evenings, a particular night I crashed on my bike and scraped myself up pretty badly, but still had to bike home. But last night is up there in the pantheon of Very Bad Nights.

Like last night, and also the night before, I woke to some serious wind coming in. But this wind was even stronger than either of those. It was clearly the front edge of a storm, a major one. Unlike last night, I didn't have any kind of cover at all - I was up on the edge of a big flat sandbar, well above the level of the water, and the wind just screamed across it into the tent.

I scrambled to check on the boat, which was fine, and then set up the rain fly. And during that process - when I was nearly finished, actually - a terrible thing happened. One of the tent poles broke in half, and the tent collapsed in on itself, folded over like a crepe.

I had no other options. I climbed into the folded-over tent and rode out the rest of the storm. It rained, very hard, for quite awhile. I had to sort of press up against the top of the tent and the rain fly, which was sorta-kinda in place, to prevent water from running right down into the tent with me. For like two hours, just propping my arm up, holding the tent fabric up against the wind and water.

My throat has hurt for much of the day, from just sort of screaming at the sky to stop, please. It was bad.

The storm hit at around 4am, and as it continued to rain, the sky started to lighten. Eventually the rain transitioned to a light drizzle, and I got up to survey the wreckage of my camp. Everything was soaked, and completely coated in sand. The tent bag was gone, snatched away by the wind. The tent, sleeping mat, and sleeping bag were all about four times heavier than usual, meaning that when I finally had the Duluth pack full it was unbelievably heavy. I felt sick and sad, wept at regular intervals, and desperately wanted to make a call, but still had no service at all. I got everything together and into the boat, and pushed off. It was around 7am.

After a few minutes, I found that I just could not paddle. I was weak, lethargic, somewhat nauseous, unable to focus. So I crossed the river and put in on a shallow sandbar on the inside curve of the Cedar Point turn. I put my life jacket on the ground as a pillow, lay on the sand, and slept for more than an hour.

I felt a bit better after that. Still very far from good, but not quite as awful. I got up and got back on the water. Before today, I'd held reaching Memphis out as sort of a fun stretch goal - wouldn't it be neat if I could get there a day earlier than planned? Now it was a necessity, and I was bound and fucking determined to get there.

My phone rang after I'd been on the water for a few minutes. Sam had finally gotten through. She asked how I was and I lost my shit entirely on the phone with her, blubbering about my catastrophic morning. But I felt better after talking to her - like even if I feel completely alone out here, I'm not.

The day ended up being pretty good for paddling, after its horrible start. Cool, cloudy, not windy at all. When not stirred up to weird massive waves that don't move like normal waves by passing barges, the water was smooth and glassy at times. I caught some good current, and the channel bent and twisted a lot less than it has been doing, which makes it easier for tows and I to stay out of each other's way, and lets me stay on the outside, where the current is pretty good.

I started seeing Memphis quite a few miles from town, at least five. They have gone all in on the whole Egyptian thing, and literally built a pyramid near the water's edge. (I looked this up later, and it is a hilarious version of what so many US cities were doing in the 80s and 90s. Built in 1991 as an arena, it was only used for that purpose for like 10 years, then spent another decade plus as some sort of weird albatross, and has now transitioned to... an outdoor store. It's like an Egypt-themed Block E.)

As I got closer, I noticed something else, something much worse. There's a place on the left (Memphis, Tennessee) bank that my map calls the Wolf River Mouth. It's right near the Mud Island boat ramp, which is where I planned to get out. Sure enough, there's a little stream there, putting a small amount of water into the main channel. And... oh my good gracious, that water was the most foul water I've seen on the Mississippi so far. Cloudy, very smelly, covered in scum on top, lots of floating litter like pop cans, bits of trash, bottles. And floating clumps of stuff that I have to just say looked like nothing so much as, well, untreated feces. It rained hard last night, and I would bet money that this was a combined sewer overflow: raw, untreated sewage from a combined sanitary and storm sewer system. It was the nastiest thing I've seen so far, bar none. Welcome to Memphis!

At the landing, I climbed up to get away from the awful scent of what Memphis has done to the river, and set about getting an airbnb for myself tonight and Jesse and I Saturday and Sunday. A couple of Black women came down with yoga mats and other things, seemingly to do some sort of influencer video. The smell drove them away. A couple of East Indian guys came up on rental bikes after awhile, and we had a nice chat about the trip. I hauled everything up the very long ramp, noting again how ridiculously heavy the Duluth pack was now, and finally got on the road after 5pm.

I biked through town with the rig, finding a combination of very shitty conditions for bikes - stupid fucking sharrows! Google Maps, for the love of everything please stop putting a line on your biking map when the facility is a sharrow! - and some very nice new protected infrastructure.

I made it to the place a bit after six, and slowly unloaded, putting most of my belongings on a line to dry. The airbnb is not the world's nicest, but about a billion percent better than a folded-over broken tent in a rainstorm, so I'm not complaining.

And then I went out to get dinner. I went to an absolutely lovely spot called Evelyn and Olive, a Jamaican/southern place with wonderful vegan options. The place was packed and I was, I believe, the only white person in there, which is always pretty fun. The food was amazing. I then went to a brewery just around the corner, whose beer was not my favorite, but still pretty good. It closed at 9, and I was tired as hell anyway, so I biked back to the airbnb. I had good wi-fi, so I video called Sam, which was super nice. And then I took a shower, which was absolutely incredible. And then I went to sleep in a bed, which was bliss.

Tomorrow, I will paddle nowhere. I will do some errands in Memphis, including drying things out, laundry, etc. I will eat good food in restaurants and laze around, and try to figure out what to do about my tent situation.