portfolio > gone on the river

day 66
day 66
August 03, 2022

Day 66, August 3

Measurements: turbidity at Pickett Dikes: 15cm. Nitrate at same place: 2-5ppm, closer to 2.

I woke before 7am on the beach at Pickett Dikes. It was windy (from the south, of course) and very overcast, which I counted as a blessing. I ate the rest of last night's packet meal with crackers, drank (most of) my tea (and spilled the rest) and a cup of tang, and was out on the water at around 8am.

With the clouds and a bit of wind, and no direct sun, it was almost cool. Sort of a hint of autumn in the air - or maybe I'm just projecting my own wishful thinking. A period of extended mildness sounds unbelievably good.

Last night, as I pulled into my site, I'd seen a large building off in the distance a ways, square and apartment building shaped. I thought it might be in Helena, but I was wrong. It's some sort of strange casino or something on the Mississippi side, possibly called Tunica Resorts. When I passed it, I noted that it has a lot of medieval accents - fake turrets, fake crenelated walls, that sort of thing. This subtropical place is such a strange spot for some King Arthur nonsense.

I need to edit yesterday's update to mention that I am now in MISSISSIPPI, the state. Buried the lede there a bit.

Paddled around something called Mhoon bend, which was fun to say. I assume it's pronounced "moon," only more so.

Lots of towboat interactions, which mostly means me fleeing from the side of the river I'm on and want to be on to the other side, where I don't especially want to be.

That vertical willowy tree has almost entirely taken over the shoreline. I've seen some pelicans today, a few herons, no eagles. Lots of those little swifts in the morning. Some geese. A few jumping fish. Much fewer dead fish these days, for whatever reason.

In the late afternoon, when I'd already gone my 30-plus miles, I took a little rest on a sandbar to let a tow go by, rest my eyes, wash off a bit. I wonder what they make of the skirt/beard combo. Haven't gotten any of the five-honks reaction, even when I flash a bit of leg. Oh well.

At around 5:30pm, I pulled into the harbor at Helena, Arkansas. The harbor was pretty long, and seemed disused, especially once I got to the actual put-in, which literally looked like no one has used it this year. After I changed into shorts (no reason to trigger weird gender-related stuff if I don't need to) and walked up the ramp, I noticed a house that was being entirely swallowed by vegetation.

That was a harbinger of sorts - Helena seems to be somewhere between dying and dead. There is a lovely levee walk, complete with signs detailing historical claims to the Blues and the Civil War. But in downtown, the beautiful old two- or three-story buildings lining the street are mostly not just vacant, but in the slow process of being destroyed by the elements. Several seemed gutted by something, several more had plants growing inside, and not on purpose. A full block face of vacant building has old advertisements for commercial enterprises that used to exist in the town, papering its closed windows. That's today's picture. There's an old hotel, with its windows mostly busted out on the upper levels and the wallpaper peeling from the walls. It's the closest to a ghost town I have ever seen in real life.

And yet, there's some life. A few lawyer's offices and government services seemed to be open sometimes (not at that moment, but not abandoned). There was a liquor store doing a brisk business through its drive-up window. And there was one restaurant open, the Downtown Bar and Grill.

I didn't expect much, but I was blown away. It's clearly Black-owned, and for the most part had a Black and to-go customer base, though while I was there a few other people, including a table of maybe eight older white folks, did sit down for dinner. The thing that wowed me so much: they had marked veggie options, including a veggie brat! When it came out it was 'just' a tofurkey dog with mustard and grilled onions on a bun, but it was fucking amazing for me. So good I got another.

On my way out of town I read more plaques and such. There's a marker where Fernando De Soto supposedly conducted the first Catholic mass west of the Mississippi. There's another plaque about how Elvis played Helena four times, before he was big, but that the local priest told him not to come back because he autographed a young woman's thigh (at her request). It's hard to square the town as it is now with this history as a place with an opera house that could seat hundreds, where over 2,500 people came to the unveiling of a statue honoring the World War I doughboys, and where Elvis sold out the local Catholic auditorium. I didn't see any tumbleweeds, but I did see buildings being swallowed whole by vines and other jungle-looking vegetation.

I pushed out from the sad little harbor at around 7, later than I'd hoped. I didn't have much time to find a spot to camp. I crossed under the Hwy 49 bridge, and took my first available spot on the left bank. It wasn't great - nothing all that flat. But I made it work. And then night fell, and the bright lights of the Industry across the river in Helena made clear that I would have trouble sleeping for a couple of different reasons. But I did eventually get to sleep, at around 11pm.

Tomorrow the goal is to just move some distance.