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.