portfolio > gone on the river

day 69
day 69
August 06, 2022

Day 69, August 6
Measurements: turbidity at Cypress Bend: 16cm. (This was a surprise - I expected the water to maybe be a bit clearer, given the confluence with the Arkansas' much clearer water yesterday, but it just shows how much bigger the Mississippi is here, I suppose). Nitrate at same location: still around 2ppm.

I woke at around 7am, with the sun already up and getting hot. I hadn't put the stove away last night (chased in by the mosquitoes before that last chore could be completed), so I treated myself to grits. They're so good. Easily my favorite breakfast out here, but they require the stove to be set up, and take time. Still, it was nice to have a really good breakfast for once.

I put out at around 8:30 in a nice current with a relatively minor headwind. More motorboats today, even so close to dawn - it's Saturday, after all. The current died a bit as I went around something called Choctaw Bend, but picked up towards the end of it.

It's really interesting, the difference in sizes of bends in the river now. I remember in June, in northern Minnesota, slaloming through bend after bend in the river, each one being something like thirty feet in diameter. Later, down near Palisade, the bends were maybe two hundred feet - enough for it to really matter where I put myself in the stream, to stay in the flow around the outside edge. Choctaw Bend today? Around ten miles, to get all the way around it. I think I could superimpose the map of the early river on one of these bends and find twenty, thirty, fifty river miles meandering back and forth in the same space that the river now uses for a single bend.

One very nice thing about today: weirdly few towboats. I didn't see a single one all morning, and only three in the afternoon, as I got a bit further along. One had no barges attached at all, one had something like thirty, and the last only had six.

One less nice thing: sun, all day. Even when I cover up about as entirely as I can - long sleeved shirt, skirt over my knees, hat on my head - it takes a lot out of me. I love those overcast days, man.

I was a bit nervous going into Miller Bend, because there are wing dams on both sides, meaning I couldn't really get close to either shore. But the river is so wide now, that I had oodles of space for barges to pass me. I didn't need to be in the channel at all until I approached the Tarpley Cutoff Dikes, just above the entrance to the Greenville channel.

There were many, many motorboats out in the river near Greenville, which isn't surprising. Saturday, sunny out, a wonderful time for an afternoon outing.

I think I saw the largest tree floating down the river that I've seen yet. It's impressive.

Okay, so, here's where things started to get disappointing. Greenville has been cut off from the river by the Army Corps, my sense is due to the 1927 flood. The downtown now faces still water called Ferguson Lake. I made the mistake in my mind of thinking "Greenville is on the Mississippi," and leaving it at that. But it's not. It's five miles from the Mississippi to downtown, where the main boat ramp is. Five miles of still water, with no current at all. And in between the Mississippi and the town proper is a gauntlet of Industry on both shores of the unmoving channel. I reached that point at around 4pm, and realized that I'd be paddling until at least 6pm just to reach town. I was hot, soaking wet with sweat, thirsty, and tired. Instead of continuing, I looked for the County Ramp, which the Army Corps map puts just on the inside of the channel.

The problem with that theory: the Army Corps map is fucking wrong. Like, badly wrong. The actual county ramp is not in that channel, it's out on the Mississippi, downstream of the channel mouth. The map is off by like a half mile. It's wild. And this is not the only really meaningful inaccuracy I've caught on these maps.

I hiked up a brushy slope to Warfield Point Park, where there's a large tower right on the river. Worried about snakes the whole climb and the whole climb back down. But I found the boat ramp, tucked away like a quarter mile downriver, and made my way to it in the boat. Converted to road mode, with a break in the middle to drink water and sit in the shade.

That spot is a campground, and I strongly considered just staying there, and biking into town unencumbered by the canoe. Part of me wishes that's what I'd done.

Instead, I biked up towards town. The first part of the ride was okay. It was on the road to the campground, which had almost no traffic, and was shady. And then up on the levee road, which had no shade but was up high and offered interesting views, including today's picture.

But then there's a sign that says you're not supposed to use the levee road past a certain point, so I reluctantly turned off of it and down into the flat land beyond, on the far side of the levee. This was another mistake; I should've said to hell with your sign, and stayed up on the dirt levee maintenance road.

Instead, I found myself between three equally unappealing prospects. Zigzagging back and forth on terribly maintained country roads, but with lower traffic? Backtracking to the levee road, including up the hill to the levee? Or biking down the unpaved shoulder of the only road that goes straight to Greenville, a 55mph four lane divided highway called Hwy 82? That's the option I went with. It worked out fine, but my goodness was it unpleasant.

Eventually, the shoulder became paved, which helped. I passed some interesting looking things, including a remnant of cypress swamp (a bit of a teaser for the Atchafalaya) and an old riverboat on the roadside.

I rolled into downtown Greenville at around 7, got a hotel room at the Hotel 1927 and was in it by 7:30. Three and a half hours of fucking around to get from the Mississippi to Greenville. My goodness.

Unfortunately, many restaurants (including the one self-consciously vegan-friendly place in town) were closed by this point. I opted for a place called the Flaming Skillet, which had a burrito that looked like I could make it work. Turns out the place is a restaurant/nightclub, with an almost entirely Black clientele and staff. The food was good, the atmosphere was fun - loud music, lots of people having a good time. I had a frozen margarita, which felt unbelievably luxurious after days out on the river with nothing cold at all. I felt a bit out of place, but folks were super welcoming, and at least one of the staff (I believe her name was Savannah) was very interested in my trip.

After dinner I made my way back to the motel. There are a number of historical signs up all over downtown, relating to the flood, Greenville's history with the blues and country music, and general historical information. There are etched concrete slabs in the sidewalk with the details of various local blues musicians' lives.

I made it back to the hotel, video-chatted with Sam for awhile, took a shower, went to bed later than I should have. It's so easy to go to bed too late when I'm in a room with a bed and a television.

Tomorrow I have to decide how to get the heck out of Greenville and back to the river. Neither option is a good one. The land route sucks. I expect the water route to suck. I think I'll try the water route; at least I won't have been there before.