portfolio > gone on the river

day 80
day 80
August 17, 2022

Day 80, August 17
Measurements: turbidity at the Atchafalaya turn-off: 40cm. (That's incredibly clear. I'd have to go back more than a month to find something similar, I think.) Nitrate at same locatioin: 2ppm. Miles today: it's hard to say, but over thirty.

Wow, what an interesting day. The keyword would have to be "Alligators!"

I woke before sunrise, again. I am not sleeping very well lately, as a rule. But I'm sleeping a relatively long time, so maybe that's part of it. I wake in part due to mosquito sounds outside the tent, which activate some fight-or-flight brainstem impulse in me. I was able to wait them out pretty effectively this morning, only really stepping foot out of the tent after they'd mostly gone away.

Since I hadn't had the time or inclination last night to prep breakfast, but had left the stove set up, breakfast was actual hot oatmeal. Pretty okay! Maybe I've gotten at least partly over my self-induced problem with oatmeal.

I was out on the water at around 8am, and pushed down into this Atchafalaya side channel. One of the nice things about a natural river edge is that I can hug the shore than has some shade, and I did that for most of the morning, which meant no need for sunscreen, changing into my long-sleeve shirt, or putting a skirt on.

The most exciting thing from this morning by far was that I had my first incontrovertible alligator sighting. It sort of sloughed off the shore in front of me, then swam against the current a bit, and - the clincher - submerged when I neared it. Logs sometimes do weird stuff, due to eddies in the current. They never submerge. I was full of glee, mixed with a bit of residual trepidation. Yay, an alligator! And oh my, I've reached the part of the map that says "here be dragons, by which we mean alligators." Today's picture is an alligator swimming in the river. They don't photograph particularly well, but trust me: that's no log.

I crossed under the freeway, and saw several more gators as I went. One swam out in front of me, in the same direction I was going, giving me a good look at its very long back on the surface. More did that sort of big, ostentatious splash into the water from shore as I neared. Even more just kind of poked their eyes and faces up, looked around for a bit, then subtly sank under the surface like a U-boat in a WWII movie.

The next surprise for me was that the whole right bank, and a chunk of the left, was lined with what looked like pretty expensive homes. This was in the area of Butte LaRose, which appears to be some sort of much wealthier community than the towns upriver that sit behind the levee. It's funny how much this area reminds me of northern Minnesota, with the lake homes lining the dam pools near, say, Bemidji. It's really the same exact land use, with drastically different flora and, um, fauna.

One of the flora changes I've noticed is that now I'm seeing these trees with long hairy roots that not only go up the trunk a bit, but sometimes burst out of other unexpected locations, like a limb that has wound up near the water. They're really neat looking, and kind of comical, like a tree designed by Dr. Seuss.

One of the really lovely things about today is that I had a bona fide tailwind for a few hours. I can hardly remember the last time I actually got a push from the wind, rather than having to fight it.

Eventually I reached a place where the river turns and gets much narrower, after which I saw many fewer homes, most of which were much less ritzy looking. More alligators, though. So many they became old hat after awhile. Is that a log? No, it's another alligator. Watch it sink into the water.

It was late afternoon when I made it back to the main channel, which felt like a pretty good achievement. This side channel excursion felt like a bit of a risk, because it was a bit further, I had no idea if I'd have any current, and there seemed from the satellite images to be almost no sandbars along the route - and that was true.

But there were also damn few sandbars out in the main channel. I paddled on for an hour, getting increasingly anxious about my camping situation for the night. It's all well and good to admire alligators from the safety of the canoe, but another thing entirely to pull up in some grassy area that might hide one - or worse, some poisonous snake.

So I was very relieved to come across a nice big sandy point at a place the map calls Cow Island, where the Bayou Chene puts into the river. When I pulled up and looked at it, this area had clearly been used by a) humans, b) dogs, and c) alligators. There were big clawed alligator prints alongside their wide belly-carved ramp into the water. But there were no gators up on the sand, so I calmed down. As I made dinner, I saw a large gator out in the water, sort of hovering around near the spot. I felt the need to apologize for taking its site, just in case.

Dinner was very, very good. Pasta with a simple olive oil sauce, sundried tomatoes, green beans from a pouch, artichoke hearts from a different pouch, more of those Taiwanese vegan protein things, fresh onion and garlic. I felt fancy.

I got in the tent well before the onslaught of mosquitoes, and felt very, very proud of that accomplishment when dusk fell at like 8pm, and suddenly the tent was just covered in bloodsuckers. Thousands of them, it seemed. Again, I got to sleep pretty early, well before 10.

Tomorrow, I'm not sure if I should push on for Morgan City, a bit over 40 miles away, or try to go something more like halfway. We'll see how it feels.