The End. (Part I)

A few months and change after our final day of paddling, and I've finally got the last leg of our expedition written out for all of you. The first month after had a strange mental fog around it, as I'm sure you could have guessed, and the following time was spent trying to make sure rent payments were on time and jobs were secured. Thank all of you so much for your patience and support throughout all of this. I'll reiterate at the end, but this was one of the all time highs of my life. I know the others will agree, and all of you made that possible for us.

I did write most of the end of our journey as soon as we got back -- here is that writing. I'll jump back in at present-day in a moment.

Reporting in from New Orleans, Louisiana, home, in a wonderful state of mind. The journey is over, the welcome parties are done, and the work of getting back to life as it was is back on. There's plenty of trip to relate since our last post from Vicksburg, and I am SO excited to be home on an actual computer to be able to type it all out. Updating from a cell phone was getting a little tedious. So, without further ado, our final installment...

Vicksburg continued to treat us very well as we stayed an extra day before doing the final leg of the expedition. It was a day mainly full of work, scrambling to get our call with the Sidney Daily News done, as well as a supply run, photo uploads, blog post, and correspondence before going out to see a little of Vicksburg. We were lucky enough to be visited by my cousin, Dr. Nicholas Crossland, and had access to his wheels for a trip out to the Civil War National Military Park in the heart of town. It's a beautiful location, well curated and full of the rich but somber history of that time. Our home state of Ohio has a great deal of monuments on that field, opting for many small, specific monuments to its participating soldiers rather than one large monument for the state. My particular favorite in the park is Illinois' memorial rotunda, offering both a vantage point for a wide view of a hilly section as well as an acoustically interesting marble structure inside.

That night, we went out for dinner with Layne and enjoyed a good meal and lovely sunset from the rooftop restaurant "10 South" before sort-of crashing Layne's 30th high school reunion. Folks seemed to warm up to us rather quickly and we had a great time. I believe there was a bit of tension when Shea bumped into the gentleman whom he was impersonating after Layne lifted the nametag, but it all worked out for the best. I did get a lot of confused stares to start with, though, as "Rip," my alias for the night, is reputedly about a foot and a half taller than myself and generally wears a lot more tie-dye. Just before the end of the night, we got to talking with a gentleman named Rodney who seemed to know a great deal about the river south of us. He warned (or rather, recommended) us of the alligators in the Black River, taking advantage of the warmer, slower moving water. That's just about where we ended up shooting for the following day.

The next morning, we got back on the road (River). It would maybe have been reluctantly, had Layne not brought out both of his kayaks and allowed he and Nick to join us to float an Armada for the afternoon. We paddled a happy (and all too short) section just after Vicksburg before we unfortunately had to part ways. Nick stayed on, however, and we made it to our goal for the day before camping in the shadow of a nuclear power plant that evening. He even got to ride out some of the tallest waves we've gotten on the entire trip, and was fortunate enough to help us bail out some of the most water we've had in the canoe. Very fun stuff.

Monday was grueling in the heat, despite relatively short mileage, but coming into Natchez by water before the sun set was well worth it. Natchez was known as the "Pearl of the World," and the name holds up from that vantage point. Beautiful houses sit up on the bluff-like area of the city, looking down at you. The houses do appear to have a certain quality of being built on blood and the backs of others, but they are very aesthetically pleasing, nonetheless. There was once a great deal of money in Natchez, and it shows. 

We pulled the boat up in the formerly-and-also-now rowdy part of town known as Natchez-under-the-hill. In fact, we brought our postcards and work into the Under the Hill Saloon, which I'd run into before after the  boat crash the last time around. The place was just as friendly and memorable as before, and we were lucky enough to spend time with some locals of great character (Hey Chase!). One gentleman, Randy Laird, is a local guide and let us into the know as to as much of the history of Natchez as he could. I'm very excited about the prospect of getting back there to check out more of that aspect of the city. Not having a car continued to make visits to Native American sites and other places of historical significance very difficult.

The people of Natchez were good to us, as anticipated, and even got us a room at the Natchez Grand Hotel, likely to the dismay of employees and patrons of the aforementioned establishment. However, this development occurred after I had already headed back to the boat, and I woke up alone in a field at seven in the morning while Forrest and Shea slept in an air conditioned room at the top of the hill. Fortunately, they left me a message riddled with giggles that led me to them. Unfortunately, they did not leave me a room key and I, looking very much the upstanding citizen with my oil slicked hair, sweat-stiffened clothes, ruined "shoes", and bindle-bag, spent the morning in the very well-manicured lobby of the hotel. I did not blend in particularly well, but they did let me stay.

We were all in good spirits, though, by the time we all reconvened. It was decided that we'd see a bit more of this city before leaving, since we'd worked so hard to get a little ahead of schedule. A good thing we did, too -- Natchez is no slouch when it comes to good food. The owner of "Biscuits & Blues," Peter, even chatted us up and subsequently gave us a ride around town to see some of the sites before getting us back to the canoe. We filled up on water outside the Under the Hill, then got going. It was late, but we've gotten used to pulling out miles when we have to.

We made it to a hidden strip of sand and foliage further down the river, torn with hog-sign and snake-holes. It was perfect. Not long after discovering all of this, we heard the hogs close by. They make a very particular sound, and not one you'd care to hear often. Forrest immediately grabbed his hatchet and was off, Shea borrowing mine and tearing off after him. I grumpily cooked ramen until they returned, half soaked in bayou-water, half in sweat, grinning. They'd found the group of maybe nine hogs idling not far away, and had cornered a small one, nearly getting it for our dinner. But, hogs are even a bit quicker than one might think, and it narrowly escaped their hungry hands. Still, a good time for the fellas. 

The night was not so friendly, and I woke up with enough bug bites to resemble a smallpox victim. Still, the day was a good one, and it found us paddling into Morganza, Louisiana that night, our first Louisiana stop. However, it was immediately apparent we were in a new state, as usual. The change in dialect, not to mention the addition of sno-balls for sale, made it clear we were in the home stretch. We ran up on a levee and walked into town, grabbed some food at "Not Yo Mama's" (the fellas tried boudin for the first time), and zombie-walked our way back to the boat. 

Unfortunately, the night was not kind to Forrest this time. The troubles with his eyes vis-a-vis contact lenses and poor hygienic conditions that he had dreaded the entire trip finally struck. A frightening episode involving some bloody discharge from his tear ducts made for a fearful night and rough following day. Yet, he managed to get through it cleanly and remove the sty in his eye. The rest of the trip would be in glasses, though. A not-so-good development, since in the South, you need windshield wipers for your glasses due to the steam heat.

Finally, after a brutal day, Baton Rouge. Our biggest port yet, and the first with ocean liners moored on its banks. Suddenly, our mammoth twenty-foot aluminum canoe felt like a tin can bobbing in the surf. A series of wake-waves slammed us pretty well just as we rounded the bend into the city and nearly swamped us. We took it a little slower after that, inching our way past enormous ships until we crept into the overgrown old tow yards south of the city to hide our craft. We once again marched out of the swampy growth and emerged into a town that looked just a little too nice for us at the present moment. Luckily, we were once again rescued by Doctor Nick Crossland, scooped up by him and his white Cadillac and spirited away for the gracious gift of a tears-of-joy-inducing steak dinner at his home. 

After one of the more restful nights in recent memory (for yours truly, at least), we set out on the last day before New Orleans. We were pushing hard to make it as many miles as possible, to make our entry to the Crescent City a pleasant one, but that may have been a mistake -- the fatigue and stresses of the trip finally began catching up with us. What started as cramps started become debilitating muscle seizures, and Forrest got the worst of it. We believe it was a general loss of salts that started the trouble, but after he downed a ton of sodium, a potassium imbalance absolutely wrecked him. It was a genuinely worrying couple hours, but he powered through it to the best of his ability when short periods of better health occurred. Luckily, Shea had been keeping up on his vitamins and had minimal cramping, so we got where we needed to go. Folks, when you're in the sun like that, make sure you're getting the nutrition you need, especially water and salts.

There was one final hiccup that evening before camp, though, that should probably not go unmentioned. That being just before we made landfall on the levee, with the sun setting in a violet sky. We had just rounded a bend and were attempting to stick to the inside to get on what we thought would be dry land (it wasn't). Already tired from the crossing, we were happy to let two towboats pass in quick succession before we attempted to slip between them and a far-off but quickly approaching third. Halfway into that final crossing, we realized that the water in the narrow stretch of river was not just turbulent as usual, but ricocheting and forming into a giant wall of waves that stretched the width of the River. It developed faster than you'd imagine, and we had no choice but to plunge headfirst into it, with a heavy boat. The initial waves went alright, taking minimal water, but it became too much after a few of them. The swells hit about eight feet at their highest, and came on rapidly, first raising our bow way up, then thumping us down into the valley, filling our boat like a bucket. This happened over and over, til we were over halfway full of water. We just barely managed to ride out that grouping, winning a small reprieve before the next, bailing as fast as possible. It was just enough to keep us afloat, and we limped to shore in time to avoid the oncoming craft. After bailing a bit more, we dragged Calypso onto shore, took a pull of whiskey, pointed fingers briefly, then high fived, and ate cold food before camping on the levee.


Now we're back to the present. I still remember that night vividly. After laughing it off, wide-eyed, at first, we wandered around in the dark separately for a while before bedding down. I think we were more affected than we cared to admit at the time. The beef jerky that Grace Schoessow had provided (plus the fine bourbon Scott Schoessow had left with us) was about the most comforting thing in the world at that point while we called loved ones. I, for one, thought I'd save this information for after we finished successfully. 

My memory is slightly more hazy after that. We broke camp with the Schoessows, Kremers, and Selsors inbound to meet us partway through the day for a final resupply. This was less of a full resupply and more of a "please take all of our stuff we no longer need so we can finally make it to New Orleans" stop. Forrest was still in rough shape, but gritting through it like the stubborn animal he is. We did make one additional stop during the day, cutting through some trees to the levee of a small town. The fellas went in search of a grocery while I stayed with Calypso. Shea's exit from the boat, singing the Indiana Jones theme robustly and subsequently falling into the vile, stagnant backwash, was particularly entertaining. 


Seeing the support crew was revitalizing, as was the cold water they brought. Grace showed off the flags she'd had printed for us, and Forrest got the potassium pills he needed. We were back on the boat in high spirits in no time at all. 

---- BREAK --- Where did we take a stop and sleep before New Orleans?


Our arrival into New Orleans was arduous, but interesting. The sky was working out whether it wanted to rain or be a delightfully sunny day as we rolled past massive ship after massive ship and docks and enormous facilities doing god-knows-what. It was one of those days that often felt dark even when the sun was out. Yet, the closer we got to the city, the better that got. We rounded the last long winding bend and started seeing bridges that I was familiar with. One by one, we curled along with the river under them. Finally, buildings began to appear, and New Orleans was in sight.

Passing under the Huey P. Long Bridge was when it really kicked in. The sun was shining, the water was finally calm, and the city was very clearly in sight. We had just one more bridge to go, and plenty of time to meet our party at the landing in Algiers. So, when we ran into two nice gentlemen and their dog fishing on the side of the river, we barely thought twice about stopping to chat them up a bit. Turns out they had done the same trip years ago in the 2000s, and had found a place down here on the river shortly after. If we hadn't had places to be, it would have been lovely to stop in and have a drink with them. However, stopping at all turned out to mean near-complete calamity and disaster.

It became apparent as we neared the Crescent City Connection bridge that we were racing a storm to Algiers Point, and us not quite fast enough to reach our destination before it. We were maybe a mile or two from our final destination when it overtook us. It was beautiful at first, actually, leaving brilliant gashes in the sky to our port side, wind subtly picking up at first, then becoming gusty, kicking the waves up. The wind began to buffet us, soft at first, then as an invisible wall of force. It whipped hats and helmets off, threw gear, and even nearly took our paddles. We fought hard to narrowly avoid being dashed into a large dock just before the bridge, then took cover from the vast maelstrom behind a small copse of bushes and trees that acted as a break for the wind and waves. 

An argument ensued. What do you do when the water you're on has even tug and tow boats taking their time, pulling off to the side? Apparently, throw up your hands, strap on your life vests, and cry "Once more into the breach." I believe I told Forrest that I "would die for his idiot pride, but I'm not happy about it". 

It was even harder for the last half mile. We interrupted a couple boats shifting cargo and were rewarded with an irritated voice blaring over a loudspeaker for it. Fortunately, the ferry was just starting the other way and we didn't have to contend with it, but we did get a crowd-worth of incredulous looks from the passengers on the bottom deck. And that's when we started hearing the shouts and cries of joy from the rails of the ferry station. The wind subsided slightly, and over it we heard our friends and families, far more people than we'd ever expected, cheering us on, sprinting back and forth, whooping and hugging each other. I know all of us wanted to stop right then to cheer back, but the fight wasn't over quite yet. We ground it out all the way to the Point, where a group of the most beautiful smiling faces I've ever seen were dancing and drinking and cheering as we sharply rounded the bend and ran aground. I don't think I understood the phrase "a sight for sore eyes" any better than in that moment.

This is where I'll unfortunately have to take a break. I'm traveling now, but will finish this up over the weekend and when I return home. There's quite a few photos from the Schoessows, Selsors, Kremers, Rosses, and myriad others that I don't have with me now and would like to add to the final installment. Thanks so much for reading and for your support -- see you for the bitter(sweet but overall truly transcendent and wonderful) end.


-- A

The Longest Days, Swarthiest Nights. (Or, Hot Dogs, Steam Heat, and Light Gunplay.)

Reporting in from Vicksburg, Mississippi, home of the first bottled Coca-Cola and one of the most difficult sieges of the Civil War. It has been our most productive week, mile-wise, having done well over three hundred miles in just five days. It has also been our most grueling, by far -- two of those days were eighty miles in the still, stifling heat of the South. All worth it, because we are now one week from New Orleans, and under ten days from the Gulf.

The rest of the day after our check in on Sunday from Memphis was a bit less about paddling than we expected, but we did manage to have a great time. The people at Meeman-Shelby Park (Thanks again to Rachel, Mickey, the Hannahs, and hello to Chuck!) remained incredibly helpful and hospitable folks and we were able to camp right next to the boat that night, pursuant to a rousing and entertaining evening in midtown Memphis. Thankfully, we had done all of our work and tree-planting the day before (a big thank you again to those supporters -- keep an eye out for your respective letters and certificates soon!) The next morning was a little rough, but we had good company in the form of some fishermen and Anatol Mayen, a friendly German fella visiting his Mississippian father for a couple weeks. The late start still ended in good mileage, nightfall finding us just over the Mississippi border in De Soto county. Not only that, but we managed to conquer an island for the Valentines!

De Soto County, named after the first white man to see the Mississippi River and then subsequently be murdered by it in the form of disease, has a nice, new park very near the border, conveniently enough for us. Immediately upon our arrival at the boat ramp we were greeted by folks giving us food, as well as Don, an overwhelmingly helpful older man working for the Park Service and on the roads in the area. Don gave us the go ahead to have a cooking and bonfire (respectfully), brought us dinner, and helped us refill our water in town nearby. The night was fraught with mosquitos, but with all of that help it was still lovely and a very restful place to camp.

We were interrupted briefly by some locals who politely asked us if we would mind if they "shoot our pist'ls a'whal" out at the end of the park. Also, we got to see and subsequently chase armadillos, which is an entirely too entertaining pastime. (Have you ever seen an armadillo jump? It is ridiculous. It appreas as though an invisible hand has hurled them into the air. Though, it is important to remember that they can carry leprosy.)

Tuesday morning found us almost caught up on sleep (Almost.). Don returned with orange juice and breakfast for us to get ready for the day, so breaking camp was relatively quick. We managed to be on the water with our entire campsite cleaned up and did our first long day in the heat. it was miserable, as you can expect. As I said before, the days like this are difficult to make much note of, as a lot of consciousness is sweated out and lost. Most of our interest is focused on the points that we get to, such as Friars Point, Mississippi, where we camped that evening. 

Friars Point is on the Blues trail, on old 61. It, like many other River towns that we have passed through, is struggling in the wake of more efficient farming practices and a generally changing workforce landscape, among other things. That being said, we fell in love with this place -- small, maybe impoverished, and the local dogs didn't like us, but engendering a warm, homey feeling nonetheless. The local market, maybe the only establishment selling goods and services left in town other than the police department and small museum, was of very fun stop for us. From the locals hanging outside to the two small Asian ladies inside running the show. Forrest compared the "boss lady" to one of his good friends from back in Korea: what she did not know in the english language, she more than made up for in the languages of attitude and quick wit. We got Chinese food for the first time on the entire trip, which was an interesting comparison to our camp from the noodles. (The contrast was palpable. Their food is better.) That night, we made the long quiet walk back to a space with trees perfect for hammocking, and the boat still safe out in the open on the edge of the River.

The next morning we were headed for the last place that I was familiar with, the last place that I was on the river, and the last place that the Rosemarie made it during the last excursion I was a part of on the Mississippi River: Greenville, Mississippi. Ever since Cairo, I've been having flashbacks of the last trip. Pleasant memories the entire way down, even the memories of the crash, since everybody was fine and the adventure only got more fun after that. Yet, I couldn't help but feel a tiny bit of dread at every eddy, every bit of bad weather that tossed us around, thinking history may repeat itself. I really did not want to hitchhike to New Orleans a second time, though it may be preferable to paddling at this point.

We didn't make it to Greenville that day. As we came to a boat ramp in search of water, we shouted out to a couple pulling into their driveway for some sort of direction. Our American flag must have helped out, because instead of directing us to the boat ramp, they invited us into their home. Mike and Virginia Hutson saved us from the storm that seemed to be coming in hot on or tail at about the 60 mile mark for the day. We once again lucked out on a safe, dry place to sleep, complete with showers and a place to cook. And an actual kitchen. It is hard to intimate how good it was to be in the kitchen again (Also, we got to watch Star Trek. That was pretty big.). All that aside, they were fantastic hosts and excellent to talk to. Mike is an extremely educated man on many topics, and had lots of tips for us as to the river as well as general information about American geography and history. They deserve all the thanks in the world.

The next day Mike got us up in time to "break camp" and be off somewhat early, after some coffee and quality time with his fantastically trained dog, Grady (Grady could swim out into the Mississippi and high water, swim upstream and spend about, all while targeting to separate ducks and switching between the two with a whistle. Insane.). Grady promises to be quite the prize bird dog. What ensued after that happy place was by far our most grueling, painful day. The air was still, the clouds were all burned off, and we paddled 80 miles further, only to find that we had nowhere to camp due to the flood waters and had to barrel into a swamp in order to find a small piece of dry land which happened to be covered in fire ants. There was one nice slice of the day in the form of a flooded forest that we navigated, enjoying the wildlife and beauty in a hurry. But that was it.

It's difficult to sleep in a pool of your own sweat and grime, but we did it. We didn't like it, but it was better than the alternative of waking up in a pool of your own sweat and grime, which we also did. The grumbling camp was eventually broken. With high enough spirits (considering what we were doing and our contorted shapes), we paddled on and made it another near 80 miles to Vicksburg. 

Fortunately, Shea's mom (or Private Eye Jill) located a number for Layne Logue, the Nicest Man in Vicksburg. Apparently the tone of Shea's voice while talking to her after Hell Camp made it clear that we were pretty defeated and she went after some assistance. Layne, an avid paddler and guide and engineer here in the city, was waiting for us at a boat ramp on the Yazoo River. We came in ragged and off, but Layne had us in the smiling line again in no time. We packed up all the gear, hauled the boat onto his rig, got dinner and ate with his son Forrest back at his house. We've been so incredibly lucky with people like this, and it's had an enormous effect on my positive outlook on the world.

(A quick shout out to Quapaw Canoe Company at island63.com, and another to rivergator.org! Thanks again, Layne.)

Now we are clean and refreshed, taking a zero day in Vicksburg with Layne and staying dry. One week to New Orleans. Nine days to salvation and the end to the self-prescribed Sojourn. 

And lastly, once again, as always, thank you for reading and keeping up with us. 

Rising Water, Rising Heat (Or, There Will Be Mud.)

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(Requisite note: Tech difficulties continue to abound, photos to follow as usual. Thank you for your patience again!)

Reporting in from Memphis, Tennessee. Memphis! We are now in states that can truly be considered Southern by all metrics, not just our hopeful "math" that made us feel better about our progress. Truly in Dixie, and seven hundred forty-five miles from the Gulf. Ninety less than that to go to New Orleans. 

When we last updated, we were celebrating America in Cape Girardeau. The next day, we rose very early to get into town to do our weekly interview with Melanie of the Sidney Daily News as well as any tech business (blog, photos, correspondence, etc.). It was an excruciating morning of hiking around, desperately seeking wifi, and finding it, huddled in a doorway. We learned a few things that morning, especially that businesses at large do not open the day after Independence day on a weekend. We ended up doing the interview in the shade of an alley, passing time talking to Travis, a homeless veteran about my age rambling around with his brother. Seemed like an excellent fella. He'd had a strange luck for finding marbles along the way for the past few years, hundreds of them. He figured that was god's way of telling him he'd lost them sometime and was on his way back up, maybe.

We wandered some more before finally hiking way out to a McDonald's to do all of our tech stuff. After hours of that, we were worn out. It was past noon, and watershoes do not make great hiking footwear. Frustrated, we took the rest of the day to work and write. We also got to watch the U.S. win World Cup and play volleyball, which was a great way to recharge the batteries. Add in a lovely visit from the ever-fabulous Virginia Siegel and her pal Janel, and our day was quickly turned into one of the happier and more accomplished days off of the trip.

The next day sent us to Cairo (CARE-oh), at the confluence of the Mississippi and the Ohio. It was once a very important river town, even plays a major role in Huck Finn, but is now a shadow of what it once was. It's falling apart at the seams. The people there, as usual, were very good to us. Even just walking by, people would offer us water, food, assistance. I think it's important to remember not to judge the hearts of the people of a community by the condition of their buildings or streets. We explored the city a while, and were eventually given a ride back by some folks who ran a church there.

Oh -- and there was the lady who I assume thought we were homeless. She'd been kind of peeking at us while we sat and worked out some notes covering the last week. She disappeared a while, then brought us sandwiches wrapped in foil, smiled, and walked off again. It was very sweet, if just a little incidentally demeaning. Definitely a reminder that we're starting to look a little rough.

I would like to take a moment to be frank about the state of Cairo and places like it as they relate to the rest of us, if you would be so kind as to bear with me. Geologically, Cairo is a dagger point at the end of Illinois, and a town originally designed to hold around fifteen thousand. Now a community of around two thousand, downtown Cairo is predominately black and apparently impoverished. Structures are crumbling in on themselves, vines growing wild over them. Most establishments we tried to seek out had closed or left, even a bar I'd been at not three years ago. The outskirts were a bit better off and predominately white. It baffles me why a place at the confluence of two major rivers, as well as being just off major highways, is home to such marked disparity and decay. I urge you to investigate these cities, see what their people are going through and why. These are our fellow Americans and our historical cities. They are our fellow taxpayers, schoolchildren, and voting citizens. It is shocking and disheartening to know the reality here is that what should be a strong American city is like this while so much is taken for granted elsewhere. Not just a neighborhood in a city, but an entire community. The contrast with where I grew up, with people caring about the folks around them at least to a rudimentary degree, is sharp and indelicate. The point of what I mean to say is that we are all connected, just like this ecosystem we have been talking about on our trip. To have the small town, an important aspect of the people that make up the fabric of America and the world at large, fade and become threadbare -- it seems to throw the whole construction off kilter. But, I digress --

Next up was our longest day distance-wise so far, just over 71 miles in under twelve hours from Cairo to New Madrid (MAD-rid). We were run ragged by the end, but very proud. As usual, like clockwork almost, we were greeted by some fishermen as we pulled up, who supplied us with directions and libations before departing. It was a beautiful day -- right up until the end. Right up until we had put everything we owned out to dry, splayed out all over the levee, and Forrest and Shea had split into town to procure supplies and charge things. Right up until a torrential downpour started, paired with a forceful gale that sent tents, sleeping bags, and anything else it could pick up sailing into the river. I was sprinting around, grabbing what I could and stuffing it into the mud under the pier, which was the closest thing to dry, when Forrest sprinted over the levee singing Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries" in the rain at the top of his voice. We managed to save everything, I think. But now all of our stuff is moldy, so "saved" is maybe an innaccurate word to use. Shea eventually found us again, wet and miserable, and we made "camp."

We should have known better than to camp when we saw lightning so close to the city. Not to mention we had camped on a fault line. New Madrid had suffered earthquakes of enormous magnitude in 1811 or 1812, when there weren't many white settlers there yet. They are still the most powerful earthquakes to hit the eastern U.S. in recorded history. They were felt over one million square miles from the source.  The shock was so strong that the river flowed backward for around ten hours. I recommend reading into it -- the eyewitness accounts are horrifying.

We dried stuff out the next morning a while, then headed out. Stops have been yielding less and less to talk about now, though, because of how many miles we need to make. We're so tired by the end and there's so much to do in terms of making camp and keeping up correspondence that we don't get to explore like we did in the North. Our next stop was Caruthersville, and it was a quick camp on a flooded road once again. We'd been resupplied somewhat recently, though, so good food was had while we made enough postcards for the remainder of the trip and continued to organize items in the canoe. 

The world of critters and creatures this week has been fairly animated and interesting again. The asian carp, an ever present nuisance-turned-danger, have continued to annoy and strike fear into the hearts of your favorite transients. One decided he'd had enough of us and followed the lead of our first encounter (the one which nearly took Shea's head off), but this time I was the target. Another narrow miss, but this one landed in the boat. Thankfully, it landed behind me, on top of our splashguard, and quickly finned its way back into the drink. In better, more fun news, we spotted one of our sponsored endangered creatures, the least tern. A beautiful, slight bird with swept wings, they are loud and quick, flitting this way and that all over the water. Pretty little things.

Our last stop before Memphis was meeting Grace, Forrest's mother, in Osceola, Arkansas. We'd tried to stop off earlier, but the flooding has been getting worse and worse as we proceed south. It's kept our speed up, but it's very dangerous for all of the communities bordering the river. We've seen entire fields completely drowned, irrigation equipment sticking up and out, and little towns cut off from the rest of the state by flooding. Grace was a sight for sore eyes after a day that hot and frustrating. Osceola has a landing just south of it, Sans Souci, where we met her for the end. She had a welcoming party of (admittedly, slightly tipsy) locals already waiting for us, taking photos and telling us a bit about the area. That part of the river was home to one of the very few naval battles on the Mississippi during the Civil War. Actually, the U.S.S. Cincinnati fought there, but was unfortunately sunk. The Union lost that one, but came back to win the Battle of Memphis later on. The city was also one of the first invaded by carpet-baggers and nickle-and-dimers from the North after the war, who were put out by the informal lawmen who arose from the community in the form of the KKK. So, a varied history, to say the least.

Grace helped us out immensely. Not only did she bring a fantastic resupply, but also emptied out the boat for a couple days so we had a light craft to pull for a while. Also, she's paddled the most miles with us out of any visitor we've had. Add to that the fact that she brought us thirteen saplings so we could plant trees for our supporters (in Shelby County Forest, no less), and she's made this an incredibly valuable visit. She was also kind enough to get us a room so we could get cleaned up. With the sandwich lady incident to put things in perspective, I'm sure you can guess how important that is. I am very much looking forward to seeing a barber in New Orleans.

Now we have made it to Memphis, trees planted, spirits high. Only a couple weeks left. There's a sort of nervous energy rising, like you might get before stepping on a stage in front of a big crowd. I'm very curious to see what's around the next bends. 

Ah, and one last thing -- I'd like to take a moment to mention Forrest's sister Teague. She's a truly indomitable, wonderful lady and she's soon headed into a tough surgery. It would be very kind of all of you to keep her in your thoughts in the next few weeks.

And once again, especially since I missed it last week, thank you all so much for following along with us on this adventure of discovery. May your skies be clear and may your enemies never be able to find the cool side of the pillow. 

 

-- A

Birding List Update #2

Attention Birding Enthusiasts!

Another huge *!THANK YOU!* goes out to Grace Schoessow, Patty Ross, Blue Jay Garrett, Ken DeWeese, the Selsor Family, David Hart, Sam Gaier, Jack & Nancy Griner, Allen Hasken, Nana & Pops, Royal Moore, Abbie Saltz, Jen Braunstein, Lindsey Sipes, Caitlin Mae Burke, Josh Penn, the Miller Family, Bob Hauschildt, Rik Stewart, Paul Densmore, Virginia Siegel, Tyler Hamby, Heidi Clayton, Paul Dunigan, Chris Wolf, Kent Walker, and the many anonymous bird-lovers whose continued support of my field observations of the Mississippi River's avian wildlife has been invaluable.

It has been a few weeks since my last update, and since then we have observed many more species throughout the Midwest. As we have traveled down the Mississippi River valley, we have passed through or along marshes, tallgrass prairies, backwater channels, rich riverfront deciduous forests, swales and many other prime avian habitats. Diverse habitats, varied topography, and natural vegetation cover has made for spectacular bird watching. 

The Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife Refuge was a gem. It ran for 261 miles in length and spanned 240,000 acres of pristine habitat, home to countless critters and diverse microsystems. It serves as a crucial part of the Mississippi Flyway for migratory birds. Now, we are beginning to explore the floodplain habitats of the Middle Mississippi River National Wildlife Refuge, which was created in response to the flood of 1993 (which this year's flood is now being compared to.) And so, without further ado... Here are the new species that have been sighted since the last update. Birds from the previous list are not included**

White pelican

Double-crested cormorant

Whistling swan

Mallard

Black duck

Turkey Vulture

Red-shouldered hawk

Ring-necked pheasant

Common egret

Sandhill crane

Whooping crane

Virginia rail

Killdeer

Spotted sandpiper

Common snipe

Common tern

Mourning dove

Great-horned owl

Long-eared owl

Barred owl

Great crested flycatcher

Eastern phoebe

Horned lark

Barn swallow

Rough-winged swallow

Long-billed marsh wren

Mockingbird

Catbird

Yellowthroat

Tri-colored blackbird

Orchard oriole

Common grackle

Baltimore oriole

Summer tanager

Grasshopper sparrow

Field sparrow

Song sparrow

 

Be sure to check back periodically for more updates! Thank you so much for your support, and I sincerely hope this message finds you and yours well and happy! I will continue to share our observations over the coming weeks. Happy Independence Day!

Best wishes & confusion to your enemies,

Forrest S. Schoessow

 

Hannibal and Halfway (Or, Warp Zones and Waypoints).

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Reporting in from Cape Girardeau, Missouri, on the birthday of our fair nation. As anticipated, the way continues to get stranger and less straightforward with each passing day. This week has seen us meeting the oldest men to paddle the River, unspeakable hospitality (once again), landing in Mark Twain's hometown, and tumbling into the tangled mess that is the Port of St. Louis in flood stage. The Upper River has certainly decided not to go out with a whimper.

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When last we checked in, we had just resupplied in Fort Madison (Thanks and love again to Scott, Todd, and Hayden). We had also made the acquaintance of Neil, a Missouri native and Hannibal local. The city of Hannibal, home to Samuel Clemens (A.K.A. Mark Twain), became our two-day goal. 

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There was still mileage to make, though, and packing to do. After getting ourselves back into the speedy current of the flooded river that afternoon, we pulled a little extra to try for a passage through lock 19 (which may be the furthest drop in a lock now, due to the closure in Minneapolis. Lock 19 typically drops around 39 feet.). As we passed the marina just before, however, we were once again bullied by the aggressive kindness of others into sleeping in an actual structure and having our boat docked somewhere secure. Also, Dale Sanders' crew (the oldest to do the river, also in support of a charity for juvenile diabetes) happened to be docked there for the night. Had a lovely time spending time with those fellas. We hope St. Louis doesn't cause them the trouble it did us.

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The next day, just behind Dale's crew, we headed into lock 19, a massive piece of engineering. Would that we could have spent more time with them. The water has been gaining momentum, mile by mile, foot by foot, and even this giant dam couldn't hold it back too much. Between that and our pulling, we made excellent time to Hannibal.

 --

   "'You see, this has got to be learned; there isn't any getting around it. A clear starlight night throws such heavy shadows that if you didn't know the shape of a shore perfectly you would claw away from every bunch of timber, because you would take the black shadow of it for a solid cape; and you see you would be getting scared to death every fifteen minutes by the watch. You would be fifty yards from shore all the time when you ought to be within fifty feet of it. You can't see a snag in one of those shadows, but you know exactly where it is, and the shape of the river tells you when you are coming to it. Then there's your pitch-dark night; the river is a very different shape on a pitch-dark night from what it is on a starlight night. All shores seem to be straight lines, then, and mighty dim ones, too; and you'd run them for straight lines only you know better. You boldly drive your boat right into what seems to be a solid, straight wall (you knowing very well that in reality there is a curve there), and that wall falls back and makes way for you.'"

       - Mark Twain, "Life on the Mississippi" 

-- 

The river is beautiful at night. It really is. However, it is a bit tricky. We generally stay off it after the twilight hour, but sometimes days run long and you have good folks like Neil, his son John, and Captain Steve Terry of the Mark Twain waiting for you. And once again, we were taken care of. Not only did we have a place to stay, but Neil and John, the official Tom Sawyer, brought us dinner as well (John, thanks for the gummy bear addition. It raised morale more than you know).

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The hometown of Mr. Clemens did not get short shrift in the morning, either. Neil showed us Lovers' Leap, got us breakfast, and introduced us not only to Captain Steve, but also to Mr. Sweets, the man who best knows the ins and outs of Clemens' childhood home. If you happen to have the good luck to be in Hannibal, MO, please support the riverboat and museum, respectively. The people in this town are simply too fine too miss.

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Next stop: Louisiana. Louisiana, Missouri, that is. We stopped in for a moment to mail some things and be on our way, but stuck around to speak to the Hannibal paper and watch the Americans take the Germans in the World Cup action. We also spoke to Eric, a newsman from Hannibal who was kind enough to take an interest in our journey (link to follow). 

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Barges were stacked up all along the river, due to a low bridge and high water. This has been an ever-more present feature of the river as we get further south. It's made for a "fun" game of, "is that giant barge coming at us or not," which is an excellent game for three fatigued, sunburnt men trapped in a confined space to play. Similar games must take place on the larger ships around here as well, as the map makes note of plenty of shipwrecks along the way.

 (Note on asian carp: we have learned a few things about this destructive invasive species along the course of the river. Facts like, "smelly, but delicious," or, "terrified of any splashing or noise nearby." The latter factoid was discovered in the field, where a startled fish jumped over Calypso's bow and slimed the face of an equally startled Shea Selsor.)

Still, we had an excellent day. 65 miles (and some nasty storms) after Louisiana, we made it to Grafton (Hi Kendra!) just after the sun quit us. Lo and behold, we had fine company awaiting us in the form of the Selsors! Jill and Dave made the long trek out to join us for a couple days. 

Dave paddled, too. Bragging rights. 

Dave paddled, too. Bragging rights. 

And thank goodness they did come out, or we would be up a certain kind of creek without the proverbial paddle. As it turns out, the same floodwaters that have given us such speed have also been ripping pieces off of docks and rending trees from the ground, hurrying them away downstream. The Coast Guard, generally fairly big on the whole "public safety" thing, shut down about 80 miles of the river south of St. Louis to craft like ours. We spent a good deal of our morning the next day in St. Louis, trying to navigate the Coast Guard's phone lines in an attempt to garner a permit for this stretch of river. After being kicked up the chain of command a while, we were given a respectful, even apologetic, "absolutely not." The Selsors came to our rescue, fortunately, and we did our longest ever portage down to mile 110, in Chester, Il. 

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It was truly a disappointment to be forced to take a cut like that, but we kept on our toes. Thanks to the swift assistance of Jill and Dave, we were back on the water in no time and still managed thirty miles before calling it quits in Grand Tower, Il. 

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Grand Tower was flooded (A common feature there, we found), small, and absolutely wonderful to us. It just so happened that the area's fireworks celebration for Independence Day was that evening, and we were welcomed with wide open arms by the good people of Big Muddy Fryer, a charitable organization raising money for anything or anyone needing help in the area, year 'round. They fed and entertained us all evening. Thanks again, Carl and company. You folks are the best.

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And finally, Independence Day. It was a delightful day of fast water, easy paddling, and swimming in the river for our nation's birthday. We still made it about thirty miles on the day, but it was a fairly relaxed pace. After all, it was our birthday.

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That brought us to Cape Girardeau, fifty miles north of Cairo. The Upper River is nearly spent, and we couldn't be more excited to see that fresh set of numbers where the waters from home join up with us at the confluence of the Ohio. Just being this close is an enormous boost to morale already. 

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-- A

 

One Thousand Miles of Mud. (Or, How We Learned to Use Grunts to Communicate Complicated Concepts.)

 

 (Note: more photos to come. Internet is still a bit of a gamble. Thanks!)

Reporting in from just above Lock 19 in Keokuk, IA -- less than ten miles from the border with Missouri. We've logged 1,000 miles in the boat and are hot on the heels of halfway to our destination. And, thanks to the gracious efforts of a trio of friends and family, our morale is renewed in a big way as we approach Cairo.

After leaving Prairie du Chien we paddled through dusk and night into Bueno Vista, Iowa (pronounced "Beunah"). As usual, we had a welcoming party in the form of the friendliest of locals, Don. He'd been down at the edge of town to use his phone. We set up our tents, knowing that rain was coming, but unaware of just how bad it would get. 

We woke up to our tents beating down into our faces and water running under us. The barge-shop permanently docked there was being battered by swells and winds as we sprinted out to the boat to secure it as best we could. After being thoroughly soaked, Don appeared and spirited us up to the Someplace Else, a bar run by Bob, a Korean War veteran. Bob gave us coffee and some wonderful company before we managed to dodge some more weather and roll out. 

We managed to make it down to Dubuque without too much trouble, and set up our last camp in fair Wisconsin. The jobs of making and breaking camp have become a nice routine for us at this point, almost soothing (at least the making part). The next night was much the same, on an island in the middle of the channel. The islands make for excellent camping, with little fear of any sort of interloper, human or animal.

Next stop was Le Claire, where we were stymied by storms and a backed up lock once again. We couldn't have asked for a nicer place to get stuck, though (Aside from the mayflies. I have never in my life seen so many mayflies. The side wall of the Buffalo Bill museum was thick with them.) We spent the day working on letters, postcards, painting, and whatever else we could muster through the wait. Zach, an apprenticing river boat pilot, provided fine company as we wound down. We ended up staying the night and camping out.

We managed a lot of miles the next day, paddling almost sixty miles to Louisa Wildlife Refuge. There have been so many beautiful refuges all down the river, and this one did not fail to live up to the standard of the others. We had been held up by barges in the lock again, and heard them all night, pushing water aside to move upriver. One didn't quite navigate a bouy and collided with it, sounding like a cannonball hitting a gong.

Since we had company incoming (in the form of Shea's lovely lady Hayden and Forrest's father Scott, with his good friend Todd), the next day was short and easy. We made our way to Oquawka, IL, once again greeted by a local who shouted from a balcony to go ahead and use his private dock and campsite. It would seem that people are still all too friendly down here, even at long range.

The reinforcements from Ohio made for a wonderful morale boost as we neared the halfway mark. Not only did we resupply, sleep in beds, and eat much better overall, but Scott and Todd even jumped in the boat and helped us paddle thirty miles. Not only that, but we got our best ever mileage speed that morning.

No, really. They did. It was in the paper. 

Bragging rights.

Bragging rights.

The week ended during the resupply, in Fort Madison, IA. At the hotel there (A hotel! With beds!) we met Neil, a man from Hannibal who was there supporting his son's baseball team, the Aces, in their Championship (They won, 4-0. Nice work, John and team.) Neil was kind enough to offer a place to stay and a bit of a tour of Hannibal when we arrived there. But that's a tale for next week...

 

-- A  

Barge Traffic and Storm Systems. (Or, "How to Pass the Time When They Just Won't Let You Go On.")

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   "The river's earliest commerce was in great barges -- keelboats, broadhorns. They floated and sailed from the upper rivers to New Orleans, changed cargoes there, and were tediously warped and poled back by hand. A voyage down and back sometimes occupied nine months. In time this commerce increased until it gave employment to hordes of rough and hardy men; rude, uneducated, brave, suffering terrific hardships with sailor-like stoicism; heavy drinkers, coarse frolickers in moral sties like the Natchez-under-the-hill of that day, heavy fighters, reckless fellows every one, elephantinely jolly, foul-witted, profane, prodigal of their money, bankrupt at the end of the trip, fond of barbaric finery, prodigious braggarts; yet, in the main, honest, trustworthy, faithful to promises and duty, and often picturesquely magnanimous."

        - Mark Twain, "Life on the Mississippi"

 

Reporting in from Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin today, during the unexpected treat that is their "Rendezvous" historical buckskinner and fur trader reenactment festival and swap meet. We happened upon the town yesterday while looking for resupply and shelter from a storm and stumbled upon the mass of tents, patrons, and costumes, much to our delight. Thanks to Mark and Tim, respectively, for pointing it out to us. We would have bumbled right past a fun view to history in the area.

The past week has been a little rocky and inconsistent in terms of the mileage we were hoping to make, but it's still been a very productive one. After we last updated out of Prescott (Hi, Jeff & crew!), we worked for another couple hours before setting out. The waters of the La Croix river, inky indigo and beautifully clean, mixed with the Mississippi mud and gave us a little push on our way out of our first stop in Wisconsin.

That evening found us in Pucketville, Wisconsin, just across the "highway" from Redwing, Minnesota. We had been floating by, looking at the map and considering a late lake crossing to gain some extra miles, when the proprietor of the Harbor Bar Marina, Brad, came out onto the dock and waved us down. After a long day of sun, sweat, and effort it is very difficult to deny an offer of food and showers instead of chancing it on bad water. The Harbor Bar itself was more of a large bazaar, really, with a huge grassy area full of benches and color. We had an excellent time chatting up the Jamaican staff, also (Hey Pinto & ladies!). 

The next morning we were contending with lightning storms and downpour, which meant postcards and painting. With so little time to waste, these storms almost come as a welcome time to get all of the other work done without being fatigued. We still made some miles later in the day, though, paddling to a rocky outcrop on Lake Pepin, where we used the last rays to make our flags. There are sandbars to be conquered along the way, after all. 

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The next day wasn't too much to report, which seems to be more and more of a theme as we get further on. Lake Pepin is quite pretty, and the locks have been very neat, and the paddling difficult. But, as we get into these longer days, it seems the best expression is, "Paddle. Paddle. Paddle. Paddle. Paddle." So, more and more our thoughts turn forward, to Cairo. 

Yet, there's still fun to be had. After Minneiska and a long day of locks, barge traffic delays, and night paddling, we made it to La Crosse, Wisconsin. We pulled into a channel splitting the city's park and made camp, then headed into town where we were welcomed with open arms by some terrific locals (Hey Billy the Kid & friends!) We were a little slow the next day. Also, there is a breakfast place there devoted entirely to John Hughes films. You can probably guess the name. It's hilarious.

Still, tired or not, we have to move water every day now. So it was onward to a small wildlife refuge island (our favorite kind) where we started to work on camp and supporter duties. There were critters EVERYWHERE. It was a delightful place, with a stream running through. Highly recommended, if you happen to be in the area. It's on the map.

And then it was back to the big push. We were delayed by barges and lightning again, but still managed to fall just short of our fifty-mile goal, stopping in at a small landing to camp. The spots like this to camp at are truly invaluable to us. We're curious to see what's coming up down south. Snakes while searching for firewood is a concern.

Weather reports are sort of hard to get at times, so we didn't really see the storm that got us coming. But we woke up as it rolled in, flashing across the morning sky, and managed to avoid it and make it to Prairie au Chien. And just in time for the festival.

So, thanks for reading. As you can see, it's been a little hinky the past week and we have learned a great deal. The upcoming week will be a bear of a time, but will pay off nicely. The more time we have to see the myriad wonderful folks who live all up and down this river, the better.  

 

-- A

P.S. - More photos to come. The wifi here is poor at best. But the coffee, bacon and eggs are pretty good, so...

Update Supplement - Fun Facts & Figures

Howdy Folks!

I thought I might share some of my photographs and a few interesting details related to our journey so far:

Not even the Little Falls Dam can hold back the Calypso crew!  [cameras + water environments = the occasional blurry photograph]

Not even the Little Falls Dam can hold back the Calypso crew!  [cameras + water environments = the occasional blurry photograph]

Loading up the thermos for the next day. Even three growing boys couldn't finish all that rice.. Waste not, want not!

Loading up the thermos for the next day. Even three growing boys couldn't finish all that rice.. Waste not, want not!

Some water stats:

At Lake Itasca, the start of the river, the average flow rate is 6 cubic feet per second.  At Upper St. Anthony Falls, the northern most Lock and Dam, the average flow rate is 12,000 cubic feet per second or 89,869 gallons per second.  In New Orleans, the average flow rate is 600,000 cubic feet per second.

So to give that some context... There are 7.489 gallons of water in a cubic foot. One cubic foot of water weighs 62.4 pounds. A 48 foot semi-truck trailer is a 3,600 cubic foot container.

Therefor... At Lake Itasca, it would take 10 minutes for one semi-trailer of water to flow out of the lake into the Mississippi. At St. Anthony Falls, the equivalent of 3 semi-trailers full of water go over the falls every second. At New Orleans, the equivalent of 166 semi-trailers of water flow past Algiers Point each second!

Shea surveys a treacherous stretch of river.

Shea surveys a treacherous stretch of river.

From above... 

From above... 

Critters!

We have observed many different bird species during this expedition, and it is important to note that the Mississippi River remains the single most important waterway for North America's migratory birds.  Forty percent of the nation's migratory waterfowl use the river corridor during their Spring and Fall migration. Also, Sixty percent of all North American birds (326 species) use the Mississippi River Basin as their migratory flyway! We have been encountering new bird species as we head further south, and I will post a comprehensive list next week detailing what has been observed. I was lucky to see two whooping cranes in flight around 05:30 just as the sun was rising last week. The whooping crane was our endanger animal mascot for Minnesota, and I am grateful to have seen one in the wild. Now, in Wisconsin we will be representing the Long-earred bat which is suffering from White-nose Syndrome and habitat loss. 

Once again, here are the endangered and threatened species we are representing on our post-cards and documents along the journey:

Minnesota: Whooping Crane

Wisconsin: Long-earred Bat

Iowa: Iowa Pleistocene Snail

Illinois: Rattlesnake Master-Borer Moth

Kentucky: Pallid Sturgeon

Missouri: Hine's Emerald Dragonfly

Tennessee: Least Tern

Arkansas: Ozark Hellbender

Mississippi: Bayou Darter

Louisiana: Small tooth Sawfish

Yellow-bellied sapsucker!

Yellow-bellied sapsucker!

Carrion Beetle in specimen chamber (AKA Corpse Beetle)

Carrion Beetle in specimen chamber (AKA Corpse Beetle)

Montana Conservation Corps - REPRESENT!  

Montana Conservation Corps - REPRESENT!  

Locks and Dams!

We have encountered 14 dams so far, and made 14 portages during the last 500 miles. We dropped 833 feet in elevation while traveling through Minnesota. We have been through 3 locks so far and dropped 65 feet in them. There are 28 locks on the Mississippi River, so 25 more to go! The typical lock is 56' wide and 400' long! A lock and dam system enables a large ship to move from a body of water at one level to another body of water at another level. This helps us avoid getting the canoe out of water.  We just missed the Upper St. Anthony Falls lock by one day. It has been closed in order to combat Asian Carp, which is an invasive specie that is destroying the river's ecosystems. It is voracious, and eats everything it can get its fish mouth on. Many people in this area feel conflicted about the lock's closure. Most people believe it to be a futile act because the Asian carp will inevitably find a way upriver regardless. The closure of the Mississippi River's largest lock and dam highlights the destructive capabilities of invasive species and the need for tackling such threats to America's ecosystems. 

Looking into the Lower St. Anthony Falls lock.

Looking into the Lower St. Anthony Falls lock.

A righteous soul finds the light in Lock No. 1

A righteous soul finds the light in Lock No. 1

Water Quality:

Pollution is increasing dramatically. There are many coal power plants along the river, mills, and raw sewage drains which flow directly into the river.  The Twin Cities adopted a very serious clean-up plan to combat pollution in the 80s, and the river's health has been improving every since. There is still a long way to go though. Dissolved Oxygen levels are rising now, which helps aquatic plants and animals breathe and reproduce. 

A huge part of the pollution come from Coal Power Plants which generate a great deal of waste along with the power they produce. Coal plants emit a great deal of Carbon Dioxide emissions and ash that is laced with mercury, arsenic, chromium, and cadmium which are known cancer-causing carcinogens. The average plant generates 125,000 tons of ash and 193,000 tons of sludge from the smokestack scrubber every year. Aside from these pollutants, coal plants also generate a lot of thermal pollution. They suck water in from the river to cool the power plant, and then pump water that is 20-25 degrees hotter back into the river. This dramatically effects the ecosystems nearby, and reduces dissolved oxygen levels (which plants and animals cannot survive without.)

What is the alternative? You may be surprised to hear that Nuclear Power Plants are very environmentally friendly in comparison! The cost the same amount to maintain, and 1 pound of nuclear fuel has 1,000,000x more energy than a pound of fossil fuel. The average 1 gigawatt coal-fired plant requires 9,000 tons of fuel every day. A 1 gigawatt nuclear plant consumes only 6.6 pounds of uranium in the same amount of time. Nuclear power plants do not produce the ash and sludge that a coal power plant does, and have become incredibly safe. The safety records of nuclear plants in the United States is impeccable.  

Passing the Monticello Nuclear Plant. 

Passing the Monticello Nuclear Plant. 

Nuclear reactor observation tower veiled in coolant mist.

Nuclear reactor observation tower veiled in coolant mist.

Camp Ripley

We passed by Camp Ripley as we headed down the river from Brainerd, Minnesota. We heard automatic weapons fire, explosions, and helicopters overhead. Naturally, we were very keen to find out what was going on and investigated. Evidently, tank manuevers and barrage training was underway! A bit of info about the base: Camp Ripley was built in 1930, and is home to the Minnesota National Guard and a Game Refuge. Many special operations forces train there, along with the DNR and the Norwegian Home Guard sends troops to train in America. America's main winter warfare training course is there. There is also tank ranges, drop zones, and combat fields. The base is used as a model for sustainability in the military. It is very environmentally friendly and works closely with Mississippi River conservation groups. 

Photo by Shea Selsor

Photo by Shea Selsor

Paddlin' hands getting rougher every day. 

Paddlin' hands getting rougher every day. 

The River Flows On

We are very excited to begin our journey down the border of Wisconsin over the next week. The landscapes are changing dramatically, and things are looking more and more familiar as we head south into the heart of the Midwest. We have left the conifer belt and are seeing more tree species familiar to Ohioans. It has also been beautiful to observe the mixing of tributary waters with the muddy Mississippi. We have seen beautiful clear water rush into the brown waters, red waters (iron-rich) from the Rum River, and observed a clear line in the river where the muddy waters of the Mississippi met rich crystal-blue waters at the confluence of the St. Croix river. The river systems of the America are so diverse and majestic, and it has been a powerful experience exploring the many waters of this great watershed. We have had amazing experiences in beautiful Minnesota, and it has been hard to move on out of the state. From the pristine wilderness of the Headwaters region to the bluffs of the South, every mile of river has displayed beautiful landscapes teeming with wildlife. Also, a special thanks goes out to Kaitie of Brainerd. She was kind enough to take Alex and I up to a vista overlooking the iron bog pit mines near Ironton, just outside Brainerd. From the overlook, we were able to see the clear-blue waters mingle with red iron-rich bluffs and the river valley stretch out for miles and miles into the distance. It was inspiring to see how a once-industrialized landscape can be reclaimed by nature and begin to thrive once again. 

Up above the now beautiful pit mine pools. 

Up above the now beautiful pit mine pools. 

Reclaimed & Resplendent

Reclaimed & Resplendent

Oh, we shall not miss these lengthy portages!

Oh, we shall not miss these lengthy portages!

A heavy sign & saddening sign of a dying town. The freshly built school and baseball field in Palisade, MN were not enough to attract new students -- and now they are both for sale. The small town's children now ride 25 minutes to a nearby town for schooling. 

A heavy sign & saddening sign of a dying town. The freshly built school and baseball field in Palisade, MN were not enough to attract new students -- and now they are both for sale. The small town's children now ride 25 minutes to a nearby town for schooling. 

Chicken, the goose rescued by Caleb, stretches out before resting after a long day.  

Chicken, the goose rescued by Caleb, stretches out before resting after a long day.  

That's all for this week. Hopefully if we make significant progress on our southward journey, there will be time for a more comprehensive report. Keep checking in for more updates each week & thanks for reading! 

Forrest S Schoessow

Oh people of Brainerd, thank you for your boundless hospitality. I wish you all health and happiness!

Oh people of Brainerd, thank you for your boundless hospitality. I wish you all health and happiness!

At Long Last, Wisconsin. (Or, "Minnesota is so Friendly it Felt Like a Trap.")

Reporting in from Prescott, Wisconsin. WISCONSIN, WE SAID! We've finally made it out of the (beautiful, wonderful, idyllic) quagmire that is Minnesota. One state down, nine to go. Three weeks down, six to go. Somehow that math is a little daunting, but we promise it's going as scheduled. We're only a few days behind.

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We left Brainerd with a heavy heart last week, having had the best of times there (Hi Kaitie, Dan, Juli, Jennie, and everybody!). Not only that, but we had to carry on without our dear friend Caleb, as well. Caleb had managed to part ways with Chicken, the goose, as well. The fellowship was separated, and we miss him already. Good luck, Caleb. See you in New Orleans.

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The day was an interesting one after that, despite the late start. For miles we were floating next to Fort Ripley, hearing gunshots and tanks rolling by (we called and asked if they would mind us dropping in, but they weren't real keen on it). We found our way to Little Falls for the first portage, but some buoys were out and we were a little thrown when trying to locate the landing. Tempers were a bit high by the time we finally started hauling our gear out. Fortunately, this was diffused and done with thanks to "The Can Man," a local who was kind enough to drive all our gear and even the boat down to the put-in, which was a long ways away for three men and an enormous metal canoe. Relief in the form of the kindness of strangers has been a common theme up here in the American North.

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Between this dam and the next, at Blanchard, it was slow water. Big, beautiful properties peered down at us as we made our way to the landing, where we made camp. We did not realize, though, that this public boat landing is a favorite for nighttime bow fishermen. If you've never seen a boat rigged for this particular activity, we assure you that it is sufficiently terrifying to wake up to in the middle of the night. 

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Blanchard Dam was by far the longest portage we had, but we lucked out again due do some help from a couple of fine gentlemen who were kind enough to lend us a hand in trucking our gear over before we walked our canoe to the put-in (Thanks again, fellas. Mum's the word.) We spent a good deal of the morning cutting all the equipment-weight we possibly could in an effort to up our speed in some small fashion. We had to ditch the fishing pole swords, but it would seem we were successful.

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Lakes, dams, and pontoons were the order of the day on the long way to St. Cloud. We portaged the gear in (to Sartell, technically, thanks to a kind man and a bunch of local kids), set camp, and had dinner at the Riverboat Depot (thanks guys!) where a lovely woman in a blue shirt bought us all dinner. Lady, we didn't catch your name, but you have a postcard coming your way. Thank you so much.

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Next up, we had a little town named Dayton in our sights, mostly for the photo op. After another resupply, another long portage, and a good day of paddling, we ended up just short of Dayton on a small island designated for scientific and wildlife research. We felt right at home. The resident beaver, however, did not care for us. Constant, consistent tail slaps make it difficult for a body to sleep through the night.

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And finally, to the Twins. In spite of a solid day of paddling toward our goal, we found ourselves foiled by the closing of the Upper St. Anthony's lock (to defend againsy the spread of asian carp, a wildly invasive species). Luckily, our new friends at Above the Falls Sports helped us out with portage assistance and came out to pick up us and our behemoth, Calypso (They even let her sleep over at their shop!). We were even graciously given a place to stay and do laundry and clean up in general (Hi, Steph and Jess!). Minneapolis, would that we could have spent more time with you. You are a beautiful, grand place. 

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The next day, we scrambled to get our boat down to the water and get some miles in before camp. We faced our first lock, as well - the lockmaster of which offered us some great advice and pointers on what lay ahead. These locks are certainly a step up from portage around the dams behind us.  That night was spent in the finest of company with Mike and Deb Venker, who not only picked us up and welcomed us into their beautiful home, but made us the first well-rounded meal we've had in weeks. We slept a whole lot better that night.

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And now, almost suddenly, Wisconsin. We are so sad to seee Minnesota behind us, but so happy to be making progress. Wisconsin, Iowa, and all ahead -- we're happy to have you in our very near future.

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Once again, as usual, I'd like to thank everybody for keeping us in mind during this journey. You're all the best.

 

-- A

Short Cuts and Long Delays

Reporting in from Brainerd, MN, taking some shelter from the storm. We've been moving along nicely, but maybe not as quickly as we'd hoped. The people of Minnesota have been almost too nice, to the point that we feel in danger of being like the Lotus Eaters anytime we stop in town. It's hard to get back on the river early in the morning when folks in town are this kind to you. Still, go on we must, and Minneapolis is waiting.

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It's hard to believe it's only been a week since we lit out from Grand Rapids, so much has happened. We woke up and got going in time to make it out of town fairly cleanly, with an assist from the nice folks at the power plant. They picked us up and took us to Steamboat Landing, the Calypso in tow, but not before giving us a brief tour of the control room of the plant and assisting us with some hardware modifications (no more paddles being damaged due to the middle seat!).  We paddled out to a campsite near Blackberry and made camp somewhat early, taking advantage of the great birdwatching there -- there were kingfishers and eagles flying all about.  It was a beautiful place.

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The next day had us making our way down to Willowood campsite, paddling hard. We had made an unfortunate discovery coming out of Grand Rapids -- our YSI multiparameter device was malfunctioning and wouldn't boot up.  So, after every attempt to make the device function to no avail, we decided to mail it back to Ohio to sit the rest of the trip out. Repairs are expensive, and even to have it looked at is out of our budget. However, we still have plenty of equipment to continuing testing. Our primary loss is readings on dissolved oxygen. All things considered, all is still very well. We mailed the device from the Mississippi Landing store in Jacobson, an extraordinarily small town just off the river. The rest of the day consisted of passing idyllic farmland and cows languishing under and overcast sky.

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Being wary of oncoming storms, we spent the whole next day paddling hard to get to Palisade. We really hit it that day, managing to make it into Palisade and its beautiful campground before nightfall. Anticipating some nasty precipitation, we pulled the canoe from the water and spread out under the protection of the camp enclosure, taking a "zero" (day off) to get as much non-paddling work done as possible. That paid off nicely (despite the rain being slim to none), and there were high spirits with us on our way out. Quick aside to the people of Palisade: Thanks again, especially for all the dry wood. 

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After our day off we powered onward to Lone Pine campsite, by way of a nasty low head dam to cut off a little time. That was one of our nastier portages, including poison ivy, slick rocks, and a precipitous perch for our boat in the eddies afterward. However, we made it, and spent an hour after speaking to Pete, a man who lived up on the dam and came down to speak with us. He'd been out mushroom hunting and took a little break to chit chat with us and give us his CD (he goes by Pickin' Pete, on banjo). It was strange on the diversion channel, being the first long, straight stretch we'd had. It was bizarre and beautiful, with just enough current to keep us moving right along. We ended up doing some night paddling to make our goal that day, arriving in Lone Pine and finishing making camp just after midnight.

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Our next morning was a little slow after all the night paddling. Caleb managed to catch up with us, so we all took off together in the direction of Brainerd. We stopped off at the Bridge Tavern as a way of recon for town (Hi, Tiffany!). A beautiful atlas moth was in its death throes after laying its eggs on the back patio. The death dance of an atlas moth is a fine thing to behold. After some chit chat and insect watching, we got back on the river and made it to a hay field just north of Brainerd for the night. To whoever's land that was: Thanks! we tried to leave it just as we found it.

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And finally, we made our way to Brainerd in the morning. It took a bit of tough paddling to dodge another incoming storm (which only sort of showed up again), but it was  worth every second. The folks here are just fantastic, as are the local establishments. Even as we landed, Zack of the Brainerd newspaper was on shore taking photos and getting ready to do a little interview. From there on it's been nothing but excellent hospitality and interesting experiences, including a little field trip out to Ironton's flooded pit mines that were once used to extract bog iron (Hi, Kaitie!), a gorgeous location. Thanks for the kindness all around, Brainerd. Maybe if you'd been a little less kind we would have made it out on time, though.

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So, that brings us up to date. A big shout out and thank you to the Sidney Daily News, Piqua Daily Call, and Troy Daily News for supporting us and getting us some exposure back home. Oh, and a big thank you to the local radio station here in Brainerd, KLIZ -- "The Power Loon." You really saved our collective sanity when the iPod went overboard. 

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Thanks again, everybody, and see you next week! 
 

-- A

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