March 27, 2017
High – 64
Low – 50
Skies: Thunderstorms 100%
Winds : SW 5-10 mph
Miles traveled: 23 miles
Total miles: 119 miles
Where we are: Devil’s Backbone Campground – Grand Tower, Illinois MMRM 80 LBD
Thunder boomed. Lightening flashed. Wind gusted. Clock checked—4:15 a.m. Alarm sounded—4:30 a.m.
We folded, rolled, and stuffed at a record pace knowing the plan was to be on the water early in order to get some miles in before the weather hit. The entire time we were taking apart our shelter, we questioned the wisdom of doing so. But we are not alone on this trip, making our own decisions—we are part of a group and have to be team players.
Shelter stowed away, we joined others by the fire. A breakfast of oatmeal, caramelized apples, almonds, granola, yogurt, and pineapple continued cooking as we held the poles of the wing in place. More wind, bringing the wing closer to collapse. Some readjustments made. Wing stood on as I scooped the finished oats and toppings into my blue porcelain bowl.
I had just finished my breakfast when the wind picked up, indicating an approaching storm. Those standing by the fire moved and huddled under the wing. John stood, leaving his half-eaten bowl of oatmeal on the table, and said, “I don’t know about you guys, but I am not going to stand here in the middle of the beach while this lightning storm hits. If you need us we will be we will be tucked in by the bluff.”
We gathered our backpacks, hurried to the bluff, and crouched under a low fallen tree. I crunched my hood and put my head down in preparation for the plummeting I expected. As we hunkered down, Dennis, dressed in his quick-dry khaki pants and khaki raincoat, walked by. John invited him to join us in our little storm shelter.
The newest member of our team climbed under the tree with us. John took this chance to get to know the man with gray hair, beard, and mustache better. I sat in my corner wet and shivering but feeling safe. John’s questioning of our shelter-mate revealed he runs his own human resources consulting business. When not kayaking, he is playing golf. John in turn shared his work experience. I’m glad Dennis helped take my mind off the weather. When the rain slowed and became a sprinkle, and the lightning moved off into a safe distance, we joined the others standing by the fire. Unfortunately, the wing was not.
Having helped prep some of the gear, John went to retrieve his bowl of oats, which he found was more like a bowl of rainwater. No more breakfast for him!
As a result of being drenched, I was sooooo cold. I stood by the fire. I shivered. I helped tear down the kitchen. I shivered. I stood by the fire. I shivered. I helped pack Grasshopper. I shivered. We pushed off at 8:00 a.m.—a record. I finally quit shivering.
The early departure allowed us to arrive at Devil’s Backbone Campground (named after the ridge standing next to it) before lunch and the arrival of more storms. The small but well-kept campground is located just outside of Grand Tower, Illinois. Tower Rock, also known as Grand Tower, a rock formation listed on the National Register of Historic Places, stands majestically in the middle of the river in view of our location.
Grasshopper unpacked, secured onto dry land, and tied off, we trudged up the steep sandy hill to the campground. I can safely say we were the only ones who had arrived by water. We investigated the area and located two potential camping options. Option one: a grassy area surrounding a pavilion with electricity, lights, and shelter from the promised storms. In addition, a shower house and restroom in close proximity. Option two: an open, flat, grassy area far from the amenities. I know we have been surviving in the wilderness without any luxuries, but the thought of being able to charge our IT items, sit at a dry picnic table, take a warm shower, and pee in private without digging a hole enticed me.
First order of business was to gain permission to make the pavilion our home for the afternoon and night. Unfortunately, the manager was not on the premises. As Mike checked out the area, a man, Dennis, puttered around his camper. Mike asked him if he thought it would be okay for us to camp around the pavilion.
Dennis thought so, but he knew the manager, and that his wife was at home and offered to take Mike to their house to ask. We have found people are willing to provide more help than we ask for.
Mike returned with the permission needed. Yes!!!!
We spent our day relaxing after a hard paddle in the rain this morning. Many decided immediately to take their first shower in over a week. Andy, the first to return from his shower, declared in his thick Kiwi accent, “That is the hottest shower I have ever taken. “
When the others returned with reports of cold showers, I decided to wait a while in hopes the warm water would return. There were also rumors the guys couldn’t read the two huge “Men”, “Women” signs and had “accidentally” taken showers in the larger women’s area. This “confusion” created a scenario in which John walked in on Lena. Enough said. My decision to wait rewarded me with warm water and a private shower in the appropriate room.
As I waited for my warm shower, I ate a lunch of veggies, humus, fruit, meat, and cheese.
My pavilion view after showered and well fed:
The scene in front of me is one of chaos and organization. Electronics hang by the cords from outlets at the top of the support poles. Clothing, coats, boots, and socks hang over the rafters and every available space on the picnic tables and seats. John and I hung our shirts, socks, wet suits, and wool blanket from our clothesline stretched between two posts.
Blue-eyed Boyce sits at the picnic table across the “hall” reading. Reading and writing, that’s what he does. He even gets paid to write.
Chris (Magique) our videographer claimed the waist-high bench between two posts to spread out his photography equipment. He is blowing, wiping, and drying the very expensive equipment with a blow bulb and micro fiber towels. Sand is not a tech person’s friend.
Andy our Kiwi, living in London since 2005, is in his tent taking a nap.
Two hundred and thirty pound prior New York Giants defensive back Mark River, wearing his cherished Filson brown wool overalls, begins preparations for our dinner of BBQ chicken by stirring together his secret rub recipe. Tonight he will be cooking the chicken on a charcoal grill like those typically found in most picnic pavilions. The dreadlocks he has had since his employment began with Quapaw Canoe Company in 2012 stick out of his Canadian “woolyburger” hat, one of the six hats he brought from his collection of over 125. Yes, he has names for each of them. I have seen him in three or more different head coverings before lunch. When living on land, he takes advantage of the availability of all his hats and may wear as many as twenty in a day.
Lena (pronounced Lānă) works at the picnic table next to ours. Originally from Germany, she spent ages 6-12 in New York while her dad worked at the United Nations School. The paint stains on her khaki shorts are remnants of her time with Habitat for Humanity before she started working at Quapaw last summer.
Mike and Dennis are talking while John reads.
The feared storm approaches. I am going to take quickly advantage of not needing to seek a place to pee and walk to the readily available women’s restroom housed in the white block building 500 feet from the pavilion before the rain falls.
As John placed his dry miniature camp towel in his mesh bag for his shower essentials, he announced he needed a larger towel, “I’m too much man for this towel. It’s like half a loin cloth.” He makes me laugh.
Not long after the too-much-man comment, Lena walked into the pavilion carrying a bag (yes, a bag) of chardonnay. Chris said, “Lena, your bladder looks a little full.” You don’t hear those words every day.
Lena arriving with the bag of wine created a dilemma for the Abnets. At meal times, we are always one red, blue, or black porcelain mug short so everyone chose a mug to keep track of while John and I shared the black one. Later, however, John learned Dennis had commandeered the black mug, since he arrived after the “claiming of the mugs”. Hey, how was he to know we had assigned mugs? Regardless, now, we have none. Enter the bag of wine. Do you see the dilemma? John, knowing my affinity to wine, offered me a bowl of wine. He’s so thoughtful.
Barbequing chicken for nine people on a small grill takes longer than you think it would, causing dinner to be later than planned—almost 8:00 p.m. But the BBQ chicken, and rice and beans were worth the wait. We lived in luxury as everyone had a table and seat off the ground. While the chairs Rivergator provided for the expedition have backs, they sit on the ground and are hard to get down and up from—at least for me. I also didn’t miss the extra crunch of sand typical with every bite when cooking on the sand.
Tomorrow we are leaving at the expeditionary hour of 7:30-8:00 a.m., hoping for a tail wind to help us make 40 miles.
This morning’s natural shelter under a tree was replaced with a man-made shelter under a pavilion. Even though taking advantage of the showers, restrooms, tables, seats, and electricity for a day was relaxing, I am ready to return to cold river baths, hunting for a private place to pee, sitting on the ground, and depending on the sun to charge my solar panel. My wilderness life!