portfolio > gone on the river

day 76
day 76
August 13, 2022

Day 76, August 13
Measurements: turbidity just downstream of Natchez: 25cm. Nitrate at same location: between 2-5ppm, closer to 2. Miles today: only about 24.

I "slept in" at the motel until around 8am. Took a shower, got everything ready to go, and made my way with the whole rig into downtown Natchez for breakfast at the Natchez Coffee Company. It's a lovely, homey little place, unpretentious and just sort of nice-feeling. They have one of those maps on the wall where you can stick a pin where you're from, so I duly put a pin in the already-crowded Twin Cities area. As I ate my breakfast, I worked on the last few days' updates, which took awhile. The place went from positively buzzing when I arrived to pretty dead when I left.

I biked over to the next street - almost every street in downtown Natchez is a one way - and ended up stopping at Arts Natchez just to look around. There was some nice stuff, but I really have no capacity to take any art with me without destroying it, so I just browsed.

Then it was time to go down the big hill. I opted for the slightly longer, slower, less steep route I'd taken up, and was glad I did - it was plenty steep enough.

Back at the saloon, I attracted similar attention to what I'd experienced yesterday. Brian was there, but just leaving, and we chatted briefly. I also talked for some time with a guy who grew up in... the Highland Park neighborhood of St. Paul. He asked what part of St. Paul I lived in, and I tried to jog his memory about Frogtown. He asked if there's a barbecue place near there, and I laughed and said, "yes, several." Among other things, he told me about a race that one of the under-the-hill businesses had organized on the Mississippi for twelve years, from the nucleear plant I'd passed two days before down to Natchez, a good 42 miles. The folks who won it clocked in at three hours, meaning they were going over three times faster than I go. Pretty humbling, but whatever.

This guy said two things that have stuck with me. The first is when he asked where I started, and I said the headwaters, he said "now why'd you want to go and do a thing like that? You needed to see two thousand miles of trees?" I laughed and said I like trees, and besides I've seen some other things too. And when I said I was taking the Atchafalaya route, he said to his friend, "this guy's gonna go down to the swamp to be eaten up by bugs and gators and everything else."

I had a soda and a bag of chips in the saloon, filled my thermos with ice, filled all of my water containers, including the big one, from a hose outside the bar. And then I slowly, carefully went down the steep boat ramp to the river and got in. It was 1pm when I finally got out on the water, which explains how I went so little distance today.

Out on the river, the first thing I had to navigate was the set of bridges from Natchez to the Louisiana side. I took the far left option, to avoid some rough patches. There was a tow behind me, so I tried to stay as far as I could to the left, while staying out of the way of a smaller tow doing some sort of business on the left bank.

The tow behind me was, for some reason, going very slowly, just a tidge above my own speed. This led to a first: I was actually passed by two different tows at the same time, one going faster and this one that had been on my six for like an hour. This was at a very wide bend in the river, of course, and I was over pretty far to the left, outside of the channel. But not too far left, because I had two wing dams to avoid. and they were clearly creating turbulence on the surface of the water.

After these tows went by - and two more came up past me - I crossed to the right side and hugged the shore during a long bend in the river, which meant that I had some pretty good current. It was very hot, and the sun was beating down on me, but I could see some shade - and possibly some rain - in front of me. I welcomed it, and hoped I'd hit it.

Sure enough, I met this smallish storm a few miles later, a combination of me going towards it and it coming just northward enough to reach me. The rain was light and misty, not a real problem. But the wind that came with the leading edge of the storm was strong and gusty, and made me feel like I really needed to be close to shore. As I moved towards the bank, I noticed a single tow with one of those Army Corps work-barge setups. It came to the right bank (the same one I was on) and dropped a bunch of people off, almost like a ferry. I had to sit and wait for it to complete this maneuver, because I didn't want to pass it on the left, in the wind and chop.

Next, I had some long wing dams coming up on the right side. I noticed the line of turbulence from the first one, and actually pulled over to check it out. It went almost halfway across the river and was very turbulent indeed. After thinking about it for awhile, I decided that the only really safe course of action would be to cross the river, even though it was pretty rough out in the middle. That's what I did, and it was not particularly pleasant but also didn't feel all that threatening. Of course, to add to the overall psychological pressure, I noticed a tow coming up the next bend. But I crossed with plenty of time before it got anywhere near me. The storm had moved off to the west, and was doing very interesting things to the sky, including today's picture.

The next bend was quite choppy, so I stayed well towards the left bank. This was the colorfully-named "Destruction Light." But then I had to move way over to the right to get around a big Army Corps work boat on the left bank. I'm pretty sure they were laying down that "articulated concrete mattress" they're so proud of on the revetment. Another two tows were coming up the river towards me, so I went back to the left bank as quickly as I could, which meant getting in the currentless lee of that Army Corps boat (which extended hundreds of yards downstream) and fight my way forward despite the eddies trying to pull me back. One of the tows coming towards me equalled the maximum number of barges I've seen being pushed by a single tow: forty-nine, arranged in a block seven wide and seven long. It's like watching an entire downtown city block's worth of area up the river.

I went past the confluence with Washout Bayou on the left, and was on the lookout for campsites. I ended up sneaking to shore between wing dams - these were not throwing up the kind of big waves I'd seen earlier today - to a sandy beach. I made that curried couscous with lentils and raisins and dried cherries again, and it was pretty good. Went to bed early, as I almost always do out on the river itself.

Tomorrow, the goal is to get at least the 36 miles or so to where the Atchafalaya splits off. Seems doable.