portfolio > gone on the river

day 70
day 70
August 07, 2022

Day 70, August 7
Measurements: turbidity at Warfield Point (where the Greenville channel meets the river): 16.5cm. I'm noticing how little it's bouncing around, now. So similar, on the opposite side of the spectrum, to my experience in northern Minnesota, where I hardly even needed to glance in the turbidity tube to tell, yeah, yet again this is water too clear for this instrument to measure. Miles today: only 21 on the river itself, but another at least five on the still water of Lake Ferguson, something that was the Mississippi when Greenville, Mississippi became a town on its banks.

I woke at around 8 in a motel bed in Greenville. It was pretty nice, to be honest. Downloaded some podcasts and albums for the next few days. Ate the hotel breakfast, which was refreshingly good, even if it was oatmeal and orange juice, coffee with no cream. I worked on updates in the breakfast room for more than an hour - this stuff takes time! During my time in there, a family came in for their breakfast: mom, son of like 7 or 8, daughter of like 2 or 3, grandpa, eventually dad. The dynamic around the boy was pretty hard to be around. Everyone was constantly policing his behavior, telling him not to get up, not to move around, shaming him for spilling something, talking about him in the third person like he wasn't there, to complain about what a fuckup he was. Kid's like eight. Super friendly! Waved to me last night, and I waved back. This morning, he recognized me and said, "I saw you last night!" And I said, "yeah! How you doing?" And then his mom told him not to bother me. Their breakfast ended when the daughter had a predictable breakdown about whatever, and even that somehow ended up with the sense that it was the boy's fault. I'm not a parent, and try not to judge, but man. That kid is going to have some stuff to sort through. As we all do, I guess. But from me to you, stranger kid: you've got a spark of joy that I hope you don't lose and if you want to stand up during breakfast, know that I stand up during breakfast all the fucking time. On a sandbar. Eating out of the cooking pot. Wearing a skirt. Talking to myself. You're going to be fine.

(Because I think it might matter, at least in terms of my views of these folks: they're all white.)

I was very reluctant to leave the hotel. It was everything the outside is not: cool, shady, comfortable, plush, easy, with access to running water and toilets and everything so clean and sand-free. But I checked out right about at eleven, filled all of my water containers with ice and then water, and then sat around the lobby putting stuff on Twitter for another hour. At around noon I forced myself to actually depart the premises.

The Greenville boat ramp is right on the other side of the levee from the hotel. I had to walk the rig up most of it, of course. At the top, I got to see what looks like the Mother of All Boat Ramps. It's basically an acre of slanting concrete pavers, at a steep thirty-or-so degree angle to the water. There are metal eyebolts in rows all the way up to the top, for those who want to go out on 1927-style water. The whole thing was slanted, but also covered in trucks and empty trailers and people putting boats in. That's today's picture.

As I was performing my transformation to water mode, an older white guy in a white pickup parked near me (on the slant) and asked how far I'm going. I said "the gulf, if I can make it," and then he just sort of sat there and looked at me as I did the rest of my stuff. I volunteered that I'd left from the headwaters, on May 30. He didn't really respond again, just watched me. It especially felt funny to take my t-shirt off and put my long sleeve shirt on. I did not change into my skirt there.

The paddle down Lake Ferguson sucked about as much as I had predicted it would. About as much as biking everything back to Warfield Point Park. The water did not move at all, except when people passed me in their motorboats and let me ride their wake. Some were very conscientious. Some were absolute bastards, buzzing very close to me without slowing down, and favoring me with a cute little Marie Antoinette wave as they rocketed past. I also dealt with three small towboats, there in that narrow, currentless channel.

It's funny; I've done a lot of still water paddling. The entire Boundary Waters is mostly lakes, and even the "rivers" there have no current to speak of. But now, when I'm on water that's not moving, it's just bizarre. Like a sea-legs land-legs thing. On Lake Ferguson, I got very close to some industrial pylon things, and noted that I could never be this close without risking bodily harm on the river itself. If I hit these things in this still water, I'd just sort of bounce off, slowly. If I got near them on the Miss Proper, I'd be in some shit.

Another thing about those structures: many had those cute little operator-houses at the top, which always, even now, make me think "what would it be like to live there?" I've played a lot of this computer game The Long Dark, that lets you sort of camp out in those kinds of places, but in an arctic situation - far from my current climate. It's fun to think about.

I finally made it back to the Mississippi itself at around 2:30. That's right, two hours to go five miles or so. At Warfield Point Park (where, knowing what I know now, I should have stayed last night), I got out again and had a snack and filled up not just my now empty Nalgene but my massive five-gallon plastic jug. It took completely rejiggering everything in the boat to make it fit. It's in the far stern, where the backpack was, and the backpack is now up in the far bow, meaning that one of the smaller food containers had to move back to the stern. As I was figuring this out, a middle aged guy and his kid (I assume) and dog approached the dock. The kid got out to get the truck. The older guy got his bow up to the ramp and ordered the dog to jump out, which it did. It was very interested in me, and very friendly. The older guy noted that the water I'd just gotten from the taps in the park is "real nasty." I pointed to the river and said, "yeah, but I've been filtering and drinking that." He just sort of nodded, like: okay, then.

I got my stuff sorted out in the boat and waited until these folks were out of sight to change into my skirt. My knees had gotten enough sun on Lake Ferguson.

After that unmoving water, the current on the Miss seemed fast and intimidating. It took me awhile to adjust my sort of physical understanding  of the boat to its new reality - a bit lower in the water, even more stern-heavy, I think. Different.

The water here is now so wide, and still has strong current. Mostly this is great, if always leaving me with a back of the neck hair-prickle of caution. It's like, there's just so much water now that the river wouldn't even really need to wish me ill to turn me over. She could do it without noticing.

Case in point, the sizeable waves that popped into existence above Walker Bend, as I was also negotiating space with a couple of tows. I took the safe, slow route on the far outside, past the fast water and turbulence.

Then under the hwy 82 bridge, which was surprisingly lovely for having an unpaved shoulder. Then a lot of pipeline crossings, more than I've seen since St. Louis. Then a big wide open part of the river with wing dams on both sides. I stayed to the right, but not far enough to the right to be anywhere near the dams.

One thing that helps me avoid them is that they sound like waterfalls. Really super threatening whooshing water sound, from a long way off. I now know to give that sound wide, wide berth.

And then I was out of daylight, and pulled up around 7:30 on Island 86, in Kentucky Bend. The site is fine, a normal sandbar, a bit of elevation, swifts flying around, fish jumping now and then. I did see a few eagles on my little 21 miles today, which was comforting. For dinner I had my first true Camping Meal just add water thing of the trip, a bibimbap I've had on my shelf (and my various plastic tubs) for awhile. It's made the whole journey with me so far, weirdly. It was fine. I also had a can of carbonated wine I bought in Greenville, which was surprisingly nice.

There are 80 miles between here and Vicksburg. That sounds like a challenge I can rise to meet. I can do 40 miles a day. Let's get halfway to Vicksburg tomorrow.