March 23, 2017 Wing Dike? What’s a Bloody Wing Dike?

March 23, 2017 (Thursday)
Weather conditions:
High – 66
Low – 59
Skies: Storms in the morning, partly cloudy in the afternoon. Chance of rain 40%
Winds : SE

Miles traveled: 22 miles
Total miles: 60 miles
Where we are: Salt Lake Island, MMRM 139 (LBD)

My river view this morning:

WET! If I didn’t write anything else, you would know exactly what our morning was like. more on that later. First my view…

Two tows pass in front of me like two friends saying a quick hello. The captains share a special bond–the river. Few others know the character, dynamics, and beauty of the river as intimately as they. The stories they could tell! I’d love to spend an afternoon chatting with them over a cup of coffee. Or better yet, I’d love to work on a tow boat.

The oatmeal bubbles in the Dutch oven over a struggling fire. The steam from the coffee pot carries the aroma of cowboy coffee–hot water poured over coffee grounds, three stirs to the right, three stirs to the left. Carmelized apples in a silver bowl on the blue roll-up table wait along with walnuts and almonds to be added to the cooks oats. A hot breakfast will warm us after a cold, rainy morning.

Driftwood Johnnie, with his long gray hair and full beard and mustache, sits under the wing (as he refers to the tarp), with his brushes and oils, painting a scene across the ever-changing river.

The rain saga this morning actually began last night.

Wait… Got to go…it’s raining AGAIN…Must seek refuge under the tarp with twelve other like-minded river people.

I look at Tony, an interesting 67 year-old Englishman from Belgium, hunkered under the wing in his blue raincoat and khaki brimmed hat. Even in the midst of the downpour, his stoic exterior melts as soon as he smiles. When he smiles, he looks like a little boy ready to jump on his bicycle and go for a ride. As a matter of fact he is very proud of his vintage Claude Butler bicycle, the Royal Enfield of the bicycle world, and plans to ride it along the Russian border in May. I just want to squeeze him.

It’s interesting–no one is complaining about the rain, or the cold, or their wet tent, or… You would think in a group of thirteen someone would express frustration. Nature has a way of bringing people together–we all flow together.

The peace of no rain replaces the hammering of steady rain all around. Since there aren’t any severe storms in the forecast, only rain on and off all day, we are going to take advantage of the brief break to tear down camp and continue on.

So, back to yesterday afternoon and the beginning of the rain saga. When we landed here at Beaver Island, our first mission was to select a tent-pitching spot. John had picked out two spots–one on a flat, firm surface with a lot of sticks and the other on a soft, sandy spot near a gully resulting from previous rains. John, not wanting to pick up all the sticks, chose the sand.

After he informed me of his decision, I asked, “What if it rains?”

As I was asking this, John overheard Mike comment while looking at the radar, “It’s not going to rain.”

“We’re putting the tent here,” John said as he plopped the blue dry bag, which protects our tent, down on the shifting sand.

All was fine until 3:30 a.m., when the first raindrops hit the tent and the thunder rumbled in the distance. Lightning soon joined the show. I remembered Mike’s comment, “It’s not going to rain.” Hmmm… I lay shivering in my sleeping bag under my wool blanket waiting for the foundation under me to slip away. I thought about a few lines from a Sunday school song from my childhood–

The foolish man built his house upon the sand.
The foolish man built his house upon the sand.
The foolish man built his house upon the sand.
And the rains came tumbling down.
The rains came down and the floods came up.
The rains came down and the floods came up.
The rains came down and the floods came up.
And the house on the sand went splat.

I looked at the radar. (Don’t you just love technology?) The yellow, green, and red formed a narrow band. Well, the rain finally stopped and we didn’t slide down the hill, so I went back to sleep until our alarm went off at 6:30 a.m. I hit snooze even though I really had to pee.

Before the snooze alarm went off, the thunder rolled in the distance again. Another check at the radar showed even more color than it did a couple of hours before. I made the decision to pee immediately knowing it wouldn’t be an option for quite a while.

After peeing by a pointed stump created by a beaver (You don’t read those words every day.), I was returning to the tent. Driftwood walked over and said, “There’s a line of storms coming. We are going to put breakfast on hold. There is coffee ready. You can come and join us under the wing or go back to your tent.”

“Thank you. I think I will go back to the tent.”

“Breakfast will be ready soon after the rain stops.”

The rain stopped, the oatmeal bubbled on the fire, the rain returned, and now I am back to where I started with “my river view this morning”.

As we were gathered under the wing eating our oatmeal with carmalized apples, Driftwood, dressed for the weather in his red Patagonia coat, walked up carrying a piece of driftwood like a second grader ready for show and tell. He asked what we thought it looked like.

“A horse’s head.” I said. The mouth, eyes, ears, and neck of a horse looked as if they had been created out of the wet, dark wood with a carving knife. The horse’s head became a passenger of the Grasshopper.

This morning, the miles seem to float by traveling in the voyageur canoe with the six of us pulling hard on our paddles. It seems like we launched, paddled ten minutes, and all of a sudden we were pulling into Hoppy’s Marina. I thought, “Surely we aren’t stopping here.” (In that short amount of time we saw six eagles and a huge nest.)

It turned out we were losing two more people, Ben from the Junebug 1 and Tim from our boat, who Tanner had come to shuttle back to St. Louis.

I will miss Tim’s enthusiasm and curiosity of a child. A retired computer programmer and avid paddler from Indiana, he became aware of Separateboats, us, after reading an article in the newspaper upon the completion of our source to sea trip. We met him at the end of one of our presentations. He had a lot of questions about our expedition, especially the Mississippi. One of his dreams was to one day paddle on the Mississippi. When he saw a post about the Celebration Expedition on our website about a week before we were to leave, he decided now was the time to fulfill that dream.

Ben was only with us one day and night so I didn’t have a chance to get to know him well. He’s handsome, pleasant, and considerate young man of about 24. Quite a contrast to his somewhat grizzled father g Muddy Mike. He had majored in computer sciences and, currently between jobs, took the opportunity to join us.

While we were stopped, Andy, our Kiwi living in London crew member, and Janet prepared pitas, veggies, humus, peanut butter and celery, guacamole, chips, and nectarines for lunch. And what meal wouldn’t be complete without Twizzlers? The juxtaposition between all the healthy food and the red chemical treats didn’t stop me from eating three Twizzlers.

Driftwood, now in his wetsuit with the top portion pulled down topped with a leather jacket, provided our lunchtime entertainment with a variety of blues songs on his guitar. It is traveling to the gulf in a dry bag specifically made for guitars. John is jealous. His was wrapped in a garbage bag on our previous trip. Unfortunately, this special dry bag is no longer made.

We pushed Junebug I and Grasshopper off without Tim and Ben on our way to Osborn Island, while John took the helm of Grasshopper as steersman. With the brim of his olive-green hat blown up by the increasing wind, he looked like he forgot to put on his eye patch this morning. He was surprised by the responsiveness of Grasshopper despite her size and the weight of the passengers and cargo. Alternating between conventional and “J” strokes, John soon learned he rarely needed to switch side to keep a good line. When needed, however, ruddering with the long straight stern paddle would quickly turn the long and heavy boat.

As easy as the miles were to accomplish this morning, because of the winds we had to work for every mile this afternoon to reach our beautiful camping island.

Four tents and the kitchen were set up against the bluff from one end of the beach to the other. Tent parts and sleeping bags were draped across every spare branch drying from this morning’s surprise showers. The other crew members found their residency in the woods. The forecast is for 30 mph winds tomorrow so we may call this home for two nights.

As I was setting up the tent, several of the guys took a swim. I was hot and thought a dip in the river looked refreshing. I put on my swimsuit and gathered my bio-degradable soap, and towel. Items in hand, I strolled across the sand to the water. I stepped into the water and immediately regretted my decision to follow someone else’s lead without literally testing the waters. I quickly cleaned what needed washed and left the frigid water. Cold but clean.

After a dinner of pasta, I had a chance to get to know Janet on a more personal level as she sat in what she refers to as the queen’s chair. She has some back problems and chose the support of a full-sized lawn chair. Her blonde hair stuck out of her off-white cable knit sock hat as she relayed the inspiration for her trip. When talking with her, she made me feel important even though she is the only person to paddle the entire Missouri and Mississippi Rivers, with the Yukon on the horizon. She is down to earth and has a servant’s heart. I will miss her when she leaves on Sunday.

I love doing life with like-minded people. Good night.