March 31, 2017
High – 59
Low – 42
Skies: Mostly Cloudy 10% rain
Winds: WNW 12 mph
Miles traveled: 40 miles
Total miles: 240 miles
Where we are: New island below Hickman, KY LMMM915 (RBD)
Today began at 4:00 a.m., followed by an oatmeal breakfast, and a push-off at 7:00 a.m.
As we were waiting to push-off, Dennis looked up from his packing, saw Magique standing with the rest of us ready to go, and said, “Oh no. I better hurry—Magique has always been my insurance policy.”
Today’s line-up: River (wearing his snowboarding hat followed later in the day by his yellow aerodynamic hat) in the bow, Lena (green semi-brimmed knit hat with rooster feather) in seat two, me (khaki hat) and Magique (red voyageur toque hat) in the third seat. Behind the gear, John (olive-green, sometimes pirate, hat) and Boyce (red knit hat) shared the next seat. Andy (blue knit hat) sat alone while Mike (green knit hat) sat on the helm. Quite a colorfully hatted bunch.
Yesterday, big blue, sitting on the gray kitchen box stowed in the middle of the canoe, intruded into Magique’s and my seat, making paddling difficult. Today, River packed the bag farther back correcting the problem. To make our area even more plush, Magique placed the fatigue mat he found at the last camp on the seat. (Magique is always trying to stow-a-way flotsam and jetsam he finds washed up on shore. including tow ropes, plastic crates, goat skulls, etc. ) With the improved location of big blue and the addition of the fatigue mat, we were paddling first class. However, even with the class upgrade, my muscles in my arms and shoulders felt fatigued.
Tears filled my eyes this morning as we entered the familiar waters of the Lower Mississippi River soon after our departure from Bird Island. The massive white cross on the hill at Wickliffe, Kentucky, towering above the skyline welcomed us again today just as it had two years ago. Fond memories have replaced the fear I experienced on that day. Today, I found myself searching for familiar landmarks like our camping spot, the barge company where we stopped and asked for water, the tree I peed behind, the… Although I recognized a few places, most looked new—the river is constantly changing.
Being in Grasshopper with other people and not alone in my kayak gave me the opportunity to observe the wildlife on the banks. I paid particular attention to the differences in size and shape of the eagles’ nests. Today, I noticed a nest in the crook of a sycamore tree that resembled an eagle’s nest, but it was too small and flat, not filling in the entire crook. I asked River what kind of a nest it was.
He educated me on the nest-building habits of the eagles, “That is probably the nest of young eagles. When eagles are old enough to breed, about five years old, they start building their nest and add to it every year. The nest starts with a fairly flat bottom and as the eagles get better at nest-building, they fill in the crook of the tree until it is cone-shaped. They pick a place close to the river where catching fish will be easy.” I am always amazed at the expertise of nature. Nature just knows how.
We saw another heron rookery. LOVE my river view!
One sight I watched for the most intently was the dreaded wing dam—the one we went over on day two on the Mississippi two years ago. The one that scarred me to death. The one that caused John to say we would avoid wing dams from here on at all costs. On that day, we were focused on reaching an island to set up camp and soon heard the noise and then saw the water boil. Unfortunately, since we weren’t familiar with the Mississippi and its wing dams yet, once we realized what we were hearing and seeing, it was too late to paddle around it. So since we couldn’t go around it, we went over it—the scariest part of the entire trip. Today, when I saw what I thought was the island, I started listening and looking for other signs. We did a little maneuvering over some weird current to get to the island. Once we landed on the island, I looked back at the area we had just come through and decided the current had to be the dam. Since the water level is higher than it was a couple of years ago, the noise and boiling water weren’t as noticeable. Yep, we had again conquered THE DREADED WING DAM.
Wanting to complete 40 miles early in the day, we ate a speed lunch (15 minutes or under) of cheese, salami, summer sausage, avocado, humus, and peppers. I learned how to peel an avocado without a knife. I can’t wait to try my newfound skill at home.
After lunch, I had a hard time staying awake. I remember similar days a couple of years ago. Today, as I tried to keep alert, I wished John wasn’t sitting in a separate seat. He would have kept me awake by singing, telling stupid jokes, or providing an episode of Paddling Edna. There are advantages to being alone with John.
Goal of 40 miles by 2:00 p.m. accomplished!
The time now is 5:00 p.m. The entire crew minus Dennis, who was sleeping in his tent, sits by the fire on a newly formed island. I wonder how old it is. I know it is less than ten years old because it’s not on the 2007 Army Corp of Engineers map. The only trees on this new island, the willows, are starting to bud adding color to the brown skyline. Once the island is older, cottonwoods will begin to grow as well. The fact there is a certain order to tree growth on an island shows the organization of nature. Nature just knows how.
Andy reads The Telegraph on his kindle. The current headline he is reading—“People Asked to Bring in Loo Roll to Help School Budget”. Lena makes a shopping list for resupply in New Madrid. Boyce writes in his journal. A pot of river water boils. After 10 minutes of hard-boiling, the water will be ready to add to our tea bags in our porcelain mugs.
I hear an owl and pileated woodpecker not far in the distance.
Magique uses a small keyboard to run his phone. Thinking how much easier life would be when writing my posts if I owned such a device, I ask, “Would that work on an iPad?”
John hangs his head and apologizes, “I knew they existed but didn’t think…” Hmmm… I definitely need to be more involved in our gear list.
Tonight’s dinner of a potato, roast, carrot, onion, and corn-of-on-the-cob stew (Yes, corn-on-the-cob in a stew.) simmers on the fire. The food on this excursion has spoiled me. Going back to dehydrated food on our next wilderness trip may not be easy.
The river is quiet—no tow traffic at the moment. I detect three specific areas in the water. The center of the river with its fast-moving current is the main channel containing ripples caused by the winds. There is a line of demarcation, the eddy line, between the main channel and an almost mirror-like area devoid of current. The area closest to the shore contains small ripples caused by the wind but without the current of the main channel.
The area of current calls me. Tomorrow will be our last day on the river.
Tomorrow at this time, I will be in society missing my wilderness life and the people I have lived with for almost two weeks.
I’ll miss tearing down my tent, eating a hot breakfast served on the blue roll-up table next to the gray steel kitchen (sometimes under the wing), drinking cowboy coffee, loading Grasshopper, paddling, eating lunch on the beach, paddling, setting up my tent, eating a fire-cooked dinner, listening to a reading from the book of Twain, sharing stories by the fire, and sleeping in my tent. In between all these activities, I will miss seeing beautiful sunrises and sunsets, wildlife, sandy beaches, and towboats.
I’ll miss hearing Andy’s accent and his kind-hearted and helpful nature. I’ll miss overhearing the clanging of Magique’s cup attached to his backpack as he runs to avoid literally missing the boat. I’ll miss wondering which of his many hats River’s is going to wear next. I’ll miss listening to Lena’s stories of her chickens, garden, and New Roxy. I’ll miss looking for Dennis and his floating orange carrot. I’ll miss tapping Mike’s knowledge of the river. I’ll miss seeing Boyce reading or writing every spare moment.
I will even miss being a girl looking for a private place to pee.