Day 74, August 11
Measurements: turbidity at Vicksburg: 25cm. Note that the water has now steadily gotten clearer for each of the past several readings. Not what I expected! Nitrate: still in the 2-5ppm range.
I woke up very early in the wonderful airbnb down near the railroad tracks and river, grabbed my finally dry laundry out of the laundry room, got everything together and headed up into downtown. For once, I left the boat, loaded with everything but my backpack, more than a block away from me as I visited the Hwy 61 coffee shop. I just couldn't make myself lug everything up fifty feet or whatever, knowing that I'd just be going right back down. I left it in a parking space, secure in a strong sense that no one would mess with it.
At the coffee shop, I completed yesterday's update while I made a bit of a mistake, which was drinking not one but two cold brew coffees. I had done the same thing yesterday, so I thought I'd be fine.
I got out on the little section of the Yazoo from the Vicksburg boat ramp to the Mississippi at around 10, and it took a good half hour to get back out to the Miss. Once there, I was immediately confronted with the normal sort of challenge: a tow with a bunch of barges was coming up towards me, on my left side - and the Yazoo entrance is also on the left. There's also a bunch of other stuff - parked tows and barges, Industry pilings, a casino boat, etc., - crowding the left shore. So I pushed out into the current and fought my way across the river to the right side of the channel.
I feel like I should describe this, because it might not be like what you're thinking. In a car, or on a bike, or anything road-based like that, when you go from the left to the right, say, you sort of aim a little bit over to the right of center. In a canoe on a moving river, when you want to get to the right side, you point the whole boat perpendicular to the river, right at the opposite shore, and paddle hard. The current continues to act on you as you push across, meaning that you continue to go downstream (sometimes significantly faster than you go across, depending on the current and how hard you're paddling).
Anyway, I made it to the right of the channel long before the tow, and went under the pair of bridges connecting Mississippi and Louisiana at Vicksburg in the second-to-rightmost space between piers.
Sam had called during that whole set of maneuvers, so I called her back after the bridge, just in time to have to deal with some significant chop that went all the way across the river, and a tow that was seemingly parked on the right side. I crossed over to the left, a pretty far way at this point. Remember - I'd just crossed from the left side to the right, just above these bridges. Irritating!
This section of river was moving fast, which helped account for at least some of the turbulence. Eventually that all eased and I found myself in a place where the river was very, very wide, but in front of me it was blocked almost entirely by a sandbar. I slowly made my way right, but still to the left side of the channel. One tow went through to my right, and then another.
I said goodbye to Sam and paused on shore briefly to change into my skirt and long sleeved shirt. It was sunny, mostly, and my knees and arms were starting to feel it. It's always a bit odd - transgressive? - to do this where I feel like the towboat guys can watch. What are they thinking? I don't actually give a shit, but I can't help wondering.
After my change, I continued in some good current, crossing back to the right side. The current eventually petered out in a huge, wide turn. I followed a channel to the left that actually took me over a wing dam and an area that is marked as a sandbar - almost all of which have looked like low, sandy land to me so far. This one was entirely submerged.
After rejoining the river proper - having cut off a mile or even two of distance by that shortcut - I found myself in another slow, wide spot. I crossed to the right side, then again to the left, basically just trying to follow the current and go as little distance as possible.
Downstream, I passed by the Gulf Island nuclear power plant. It looks like your classic Simpsons nuclear power plant, complete with the giant cooling tower.
After that, the map indicated that the tows would want to take the far left shore (from my perspective, far right for them), and there were two coming at me upstream. So I moved over to the middle, trying to ride the line between some very large wing dams on the right and being too close to the tows on my left. This was another mistake. The tows did not want to be right on the shore, but instead chose a line out in the middle of the river, near me. And just as the first one went by, I realized that I was looking at a telltale line of choppy water going over a wing dam in front of me. I made the only choice that felt at all rational: to cross the roller wake of tow #1 to get to the left shore, well away from wing dams, before tow #2 arrived. I succeeded, of course, but it was no fun at all. I should've just hugged the left bank the whole way, Army Corps map be damned.
As sunset approached, I neared mile 400, which marked a bit over halfway from Vicksburg to Natchez, my goal for the evening. I found a nice big sandbar and paddled towards it for some time. As I got close, it started raining on me, and the wind picked up a bit.
I put up the tent with a sense of urgency borne of rain and wind. Right after I finished, both stopped - not that I'm complaining.
Earlier today, in the airbnb's little not-a-kitchen, I'd started some blackeyed peas soaking in the pressure cooker with sweet peppers, a chipotle pepper, some salt, and some cumin seeds. I drained that mix, added new filtered water, some broth paste, some dehydrated onion and garlic, and cranked up the stove. As usual, it didn't work well. This damned stove is really a pain in my ass. Eventually it got the cooker up to pressure, and I boiled some water, then added rice and a little more water and cooked it some more. I always have this sense of trepidation when I open the pressure cooker up to see whether everything is done and edible, but tonight it was fantastic. Maybe my best yet. I'd specifically made more than I thought I could eat, to have some for breakfast. Instead, I ate it all. And drank a crowler from Key City, which was a nice addition.
I was in bed by around 9pm. It's amazing what no possibility of communication with the outside world will do for one's capacity to get to sleep early.
Tomorrow the goal is to reach Natchez. I think it's very well within reach.