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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.